Ness, Lewis, 7 June 1883 - Malcolm Mclean

MALCOLM M'LEAN, Crofter, Swainbost (64)—examined.
15455. The Chairman.
—Were you freely elected a delegate?

15456. Have you got a witness memorial on the part of the people of Swainbost ?

15457. Then will you make a statement on their behalf?
—I was born in Uig, and I was upon two occasions deprived of some of my possessions in the parish of Uig. In the first place, we were deprived of hill pasture which was given to the neighbouring tack, and then our stock was taken from us.

15458. In what year were you deprived of the hill pasture?
—Over fifty years ago.

15459. What tack was it given to?
—It was added to the tack of Mr Macrae, Huishnish. Then we were obliged to subsist as best we could upon the crofts and a little of hill pasture behind to graze our stock upon. Subsequently we were summoned out of the parish altogether, and then we were deprived of everything we possessed—cattle, sheep, and everything else. The people asked the chamberlain at the time what he was then going to do with them when they had no homes, and he pointed to the sea, and told them their home was there. The people had to part with their sheep, having no place to keep them in, and they sold them to the tacksmen at 3s. 6d. to 4s. 6d. each. We were then sent to Ness, where we are. Our township was then occupied by a tacksman who fell into debt, and so the place was lotted out for us.

15460. In what year did you go to Ness ?
—In 1839 or thereabouts. I am now going to speak of the recent management of the estate, and I see the chamberlain before me, and the ground officers upon the other side of me, and though there is a good deal of truthful statements that are welling up within me, I am in a difficulty, and it is the goodwill and favour of the factor that I should prefer to his wrath.
[Mr Mackay, in Gaelic, assured the witness that he was at full liberty to make his statement.]
I am exceedingly obliged to you; I can now speak the truth with courage. We got that township at a rent of £80—the township of Swainbost. We had it at that rent for about eleven years. Sir James then came after purchasing the estate. A kind-hearted gentleman he was, and after looking over the estate he saw a good deal of waste land that he was anxious to bring under cultivation. Between himself and the Government—I don't know which—he sent men who trenched and brought under cultivation a good deal of land. Now, because of these improvements that were made and the rent of the money that was expended upon them through the Government and the proprietor,—it was in Mr Munro Mackenzie's factorship that this occurred,—the rent was increased. The whole work was carried on under the inspectorship I suppose of a Government inspector; at all events, he was in the service, so far as I understood, of the Government and Sir James Matheson. At that time Mr Munro Mackenzie cut off and formed into a park the inward portion of our township. We were deprived of this portion. Upon the other side of us again there were crofters settled upon land that was taken in, so that in a way we are enclosed in a fank. Then Mr Munro came, and my firm conviction is that his policy from the first day of his factorship to the last was to extirpate the Lewis people so far as he could. If I did not appear upon the rent collection day at White House during Mr Munro's factorship, supposing I went back a week afterwards and prevented it, he would fine me for not having been there upon the appointed day. He then appointed a ground officer of the name of John Hunter, the like of whom never appeared in the Lewis in my day. He was a very bad ground officer—the worst ground officer I ever saw. They seemed very much pleased to work together, and it is within the truth to say that from one end of Lewis to the other such was the dread of the people for them that they groaned even in their beds for fear of the two men. Then the people of my native country quarrelled with the factor, and things came to a head, and I don't believe that Sir James knew of matters ever during that time. I believe it was a special dispensation of Providence, but the end of it was that factor, his ground officer, and everybody else were turned about their business. But now we have got a factor and a ground officer appointed for us, under whom we can rest in peace, as if it were out of the heel of necessity. When they saw the condition in which this township of ours was, they made a slight abatement for every crofter within it.

15461. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many families are there in the township you represent ?
—Over forty.

15462. Have they increased much since you came forty years ago?
—By about eleven or twelve.

15463. Were any people put in upon them from other localities?
—Yes, there were many additions made from the various townships within this parish—none from outside the parish.

15464. Were there any places cleared within the parish in your recollection ?
—Yes, Galston.

15465. How many people were taken out of Galston ?
—[John Macdonald, a delegate]About seventy-eight families.

15466. Can you give us the names of any of the townships upon Galston that were cleared ?
—[Witness] There were two Galstons, South and North, and there was Melbost as well. That is all I can recollect.

15467. What became of the people who were removed from these places ?
—Some of them came to Ness, and some were crowded in upon other townships on the west side.

15468. Did any emigrate ?
—Yes, several went to America.

15469. Was this done at one time?

15470. How long is it since these towns were finaHy cleared?
—I cannot say—probably the last were sent away about twenty years ago.

15471. Were you acquainted with some of the people who were there ?

15472. What state were they in? Were they partly fairly off?
—Yes, Melbost in particular. The people were about as comfortable, so far as stock and other things were concerned, as any people on the west side.

15473. Did they use to produce meal in abundance?
—Yes, in that township. They were well off.

15474. Did their circumstances improve by being shifted,—those of them who remained in this country?
—I cannot answer that question. Those who came to this parish are not better off anyhow.

15475. What is your experience as to the condition of the people in your younger days as compared with what it is now ? Do you consider they are failing off in their condition ?
—I speak of the time before we were deprived of that moorland pasture, and the people then were comfortable for the condition of crofters—much better and more comfortably off than the people in my neighbourhood now.

15476. There appears to be a very large population in the neighbourhood on this side of Galston. Have the numbers very much increased within your memory ?
—Yes, they are increasing.

15477. Considerably?

15478. Does that arise very much from the natural increase of the people themselves, or because they have come of late from any other locality ?
—The natural increase of the place. Until they get land they have no suitable means of subsistence.

15479. Do you yourself purchase for the support of your family?
—Yes, I do. Upon my side of the township, Hunter the ground officer took three yards in breadth from end to end off each croft. Before that time I was not in arrear. Since that time I am in arrears. I have not got over it, and I have had to purchase for my own family ever since.

15480. When was it that the three yards breadth was taken off all the township?
—About fifteen years ago.

15481. Who got it?
—A man who came from Caithness to whom he gave a lot.

15482. And who has it now?
—His widow and son. When he took these three yards of breadth from us he added 10s. to the rent.

15483. Who did that?
—Mr Munro and Hunter. Mr M'Farquhar explained this matter to the succeeding ground officer, who explained it to the present factor, and he took 4s. off—he considered it so outrageous.

15484. Mr Cameron.
—You said Sir James Matheson sent men to trench and cultivate the land. Did he send men from a distance or did he employ the people in the locality?
—There were some from a distance, but there were the people of the place also.

15485. Were they chiefly the people of the place?
—Yes, the greater number. There were a few Skyemen.

15486. You say the rent was increased upon them after the land was improved ; was that not interest charged upon the improvements which were effected at the expense of the proprietor ?
—It was necessary to make an addition then. There was a shilling in the pound put on for the expense incurred, and each five years in addition the rent was being raised.

15487. You state that the people have increased considerably, owing to the subdivision of crofts. Did Mr Munro ever try to put a stop to that practice ?
—He was very anxious to prevent the subdivision of crofts, and to scatter the people over the face of the earth.

15488. But he did not prevent them as matter of fact?
—No, he could not prevail upon the proprietor in spite of that. If he could he would.

15489. And if he wished to extirpate the people, his mode of procedure was not a successful one ?
—He would do as much mischief as he could. He fined me £ 3 , 4s. quite unjustly, because I had overstock.

15490. Sheriff Nicolson.
—What is the great thing which the people of Swainbost complain of and have sent you here to tell?
—Their complaint is my own. They wish to get more land, to make their livelihood out of it.

15491. Are not most of them fishermen?
—Yes, but the fishing went against them, and of late it rather increased their debt and made them poorer.

15492. What rent do they generally pay?
—From £2 to £6.

15493. What is your own rent?
—£3, 14s.

15494. What stock have you?
—Two cows, a quey, stirk, and nine sheep.

15495. How long does the corn that you raise support your family, and how long do your potatoes last?
—The potatoes in an average year would last till the first month of spring, and my own meal never lasted altogether till summer, and it would not come near that except that I used to purchase some.

15496. How much land would you like to have to make you comfortable?
—If I had as much again as I have I think I could make things meet.

15497. Are all the people of Swainbost in the same condition?
—Yes, they are just in the same condition.

15498. Then is there any place where they could get out of it?
—There are twenty-three townships in the parish in which I was born where the people sent their own produce to the mill.

15499. Would you propose that the people of Shawbost and the people of all the other townships in Barvas should be dispersed and have new houses built for them ?
—I think that would be a happy day for the people if that was done.

15500. Do you think there is land enough in the parish of Barvas to do that for all the population ?
—I cannot speak for the parish of Barvas. There was not so much clearing in Barvas as in the other parishes.

15501. But supposing all the Ness crofters got good big crofts sufficient to keep them, what would happen when their sons grew up and had families ? Would they want land too ?
—I cannot speak of the future. I can speak of the present, and if the large tacks in this parish were apportioned among the people, I know that the people in this parish could be put into a comfortable position.

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