Ness, Lewis, 7 June 1883 - John Macdonald (Knockaird)

JOHN MACDONALD, Crofter and formerly Fisherman, Knockaird (57)—examined.

15797. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely elected a delegate?

15798. Will you make a statement?
—You have already heard how the people have been losing their right over the land and how the rent has been increased. That is a very sad thing for poor people when they are unable to pay for their land, and are in danger of losing the holding they have, they being unable to pay the landlord. We can do nothing else now than lift up our voices in complaint to the rulers of the land and to the proprietor, to see if they will remove as much of that burden as they can, before we lose what we have in part of debts, and also that those rulers and the proprietor should spread the people over the face of the land where there is plenty of land and to spare, where they might be able to live in comfort. It was the people who were better off and who had most stock that were examined here to-day as delegates. There is a large proportion of the people who have no stock at all. You heard already how the rents were increased by former chamberlains, Mr Mackenzie and Mr Munro. We have no cause of complaint against the chamberlain and ground officer of to-day. Fresh land was brought under cultivation down at the Port within the borders of our township, and crofters were placed there, and because of the badness of the soil and the high rent they were not able to pay. When John Hunter found this out he relieved them of a portion of the rent so as to enable them to live, and added that to our rent which was already too high. Then about the Galston matter, of which you have heard, although we are far removed from the march, and though no creature of ours ever went there or ever shall, 6d. was placed on each of us for that fence, and Is. 6d. per pound was added to our rents on account of muirland pasture, the effect of which was to provide laud with no rent at all for the Galston tenant.

15799. The previous delegates stated that they were paying £100 which should properly fall upon the Galston farm. Is that true ?
—The delegate who immediately preceded me can explain that better, but there is a successor who also can explain it.

15800. Sheriff Nicolson
—Are they all fishermen at Knockaird ?
—Yes. Things are dark and hard by land and sea in those years.

15801. Has the fishing been unusually bad for the last two or three years ?
—Very much.

15802. Has the cod and ling fishing been falling off compared with what it was a few years ago ?
—Very much indeed.

15803. Can you give us an idea by comparison of what a boat's crew could make in former times, and what they can now make in a season ?
—I remember myself the boat of which I formed one of the crew landing 6400 ling in a season, and a neighbouring boat 8000, and now they can scarcely make 1000 in a season.

15804. What was the price of a ling at the time you first remember?

15805. And it is now a shilling ?

15806. Have you any idea what is the reason why the fishing has fallen off?
—The fishing was better this year, but the season was very mild, and they were not prepared to take advantage of it.

15807. There is more herring fishing now about the coast of Lewis than there used to be ?
—Yes, and the herring fishers injure our fishing.

15808. How is that?
—They should set bounds between the ling ground and the herring ground, so that the one would not injure the other as they do now. It should be so arranged that one set of fishings should occupy one portion of the sea, and the other portion the other.

15809. Are there particular banks on which the hug are chiefly found ?
—I believe that the ling frequents all parts, but we have particular banks for the ling fishing.

15810. The herring moves about more than the ling and cod?

15811. Then, if there was a boundary in that way, it might sometimes prevent the herring fishers from getting anything at all?
—Well, that might be.

15812. If you had the choice, would you rather take the inside sixteen miles or the outside for the ling ?
—If it was a good year, I would prefer the outside limit.

15813. How far is the outside limit to which they go?
—I have seen them go twenty miles past the north end of the island.

15814. Do they go out of sight of land?
—They can keep the high land in clear weather.

15815. Do they sometimes stay out for two or three days?
—The ling fishermen stay out that way, but they are bound to stay out and watch their lines, otherwise these may be destroyed by the herring boats.

15816. What kind of boats have you at Knockaird ?
—Twenty feet keel. They pull them up beyond the sea-mark every night.

15817. What is a crew ?

15818. Do they fish for themselves, or are they employed by a fishcurer ?
—Some of them fish for themselves—the few that can.

15819. Are the boats their own?
—Yes, those who can buy boats wish to have them.

15820. What is the average cost of a boat of that sort with all its tackle and lines ?
—A boat, well found without the lines, would cost about £40.

15821. What kind of bait is used?
—For the small lines they take limpets and other shell fish which they get on the shore, and with these small lines they catch haddocks, and then they bait the long lines with the haddocks. They also get eels and turbot upon their long lines.

15822. Do they use the eels for bait ?

15823. Do they use the turbot for bait?
—They use all the turbot for bait.

15824. Do you know that they would get a large price for the turbot if they sent it fresh to London ?
—London is very far from here.

15825. Do you often get a turbot?
—Yes, sometimes.

15826. What time is best?
—In summer, if they can go far enough to sea and have all bait, they would have plenty of turbot.

15827. Do you think there would be a fishing of turbot that would make it worth while for a steamer to carry it to the south ?
—The fishing is not regular. It is only in good weather that they can go far enough out to sea where they can get it in abundance.

15828. Do they get tusk here ?

15829. In any considerable quantity?
—No; that fish has got scarce.

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