Ness, Lewis, 7 June 1883 - Murdo Mackay

MURDO MACKAY, Crofter and Weaver, Lionel (57)—-examined.

15601. The Chairman.
—Have you been freely chosen a delegate ?

15602. Have you got a statement to make?
—Thirty-four or thirty-five years ago there were twenty families in Lionel. There are now sixty-six ; but there is a piece of it that belongs to the Port of Ness, and a part to the hill of Adbroc, and some to Eoradale. There were three pieces taken away. Chamberlain Mackenzie took away the piece given to the Port, and factor Munro took away the piece given to Eoradale and Adbrochill. There are crofters in each of these places. Lionel has now no hill pasture except about 200 yards in breadth from the boundary of Adbroc to the boundary of Habost, and it is almost wholly cut up with dykes. The Lionel people have also to complain that there has been a great increase of rent for the last twenty years ; as the receipts I produce will indicate. My year's rent paid in October 1858 was £ 2 , 13s. 6d., of which 5s. was for road money, and 1s. for kain. In October 1880 the rent was £ 3 , 6s. ; poor rates, 6s. 4d. ; road assessment, Is. 8 d . ; school rate, 11s . ; black dyke, 6d.; total, £ 4 , 5s. 6d. In 1882 the total was £ 4 , 0s. Id., the rent being the same as in 1880, and the poor rate and school rate being reduced.

15603. Then the rental has risen from £2, 8s. 6d. to £ 3 , 5s. How did that increase occur ?
—I cannot tell perfectly, but this I can say, that Hunter was ground officer, and Munro chamberlain.

15604. But is any part of this increased rental of 18s. the interest of money which was laid out in improving the ground ?
—Not at all. The boundaries are the same as before.

15605. What does the black dyke mean?
—Twelve or thirteen years ago we were obliged to erect a dyke between our moor and Galston. I had five continuous days to work at it myself. I worked another day afterwards in autumn—that is six days—and I never worked so hard in the Highlands or Lowlands, or working at the light-house here, as I did those six days, all at my own cost (See Appendix A, XLI.). When the dyke was finished and passed by the chamberlain, the stewart of Galston, and the constable, there was a tax of 6d. laid upon us to keep up that dyke. In saying so I do not say anything against Sir James Matheson or against his lady. He was a kind gentleman and she was a kind lady ; nor do I say anything against the present chamberlain or ground officer, who received everything as it is now.

15606. Did the crofters do all the work and pay all the expense of the black dyke, or did the tacksman pay the half?
—The crofters did the whole work, and we did not get as much as one potato.

15607. Did not the tacksman contribute to make the dyke at all ?
—Not a halfpenny.

15608. Does the tacksman contribute to keep it in repair ?
—I don't know that he contributes anything to the keeping up of the dyke.

15609. Is the dyke of any use to you ?
—Not the least.

15610. Does it prevent the tacksman's sheep and cattle going on to your ground ?
—He has the advantage that from the lie of the ground, and the slope of the dyke, they can easily jump over to our side, but ours cannot do the same to his.

15611. But cannot you put a paling or wire on the top of it?
—We are not rich enough even to put wire fences round our own corn stacks.

15612. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you ever asked the factor to help you to make a better fence against the tacksman ?
—We have said nothing about it to the present factor. We were too terrified to say a word about it to the former factor and ground officer, because if we had
made any such request the immediate reply would have been that our land would be taken from us.

15613. Is the 6d. for the dyke upon each croft, or upon every head of family ?
—Upon each family on the rent roll.

15614. Then if there is any tax put upon the tacksman he will only have to pay one lot?
—I know nothing about that. It is not the present tenant who put this trouble upon us. It was a former tenant named Smith.

15615. You are a weaver as well as a crofter. Have you a considerable business in that line ?
—I am not constantly occupied—about seventeen weeks in the year. When the women get something of ease from the working of the land, they then get the wool in order.

15616. What sort of material do you weave?
—Blankets, and kealt, and coverlets.

15617. Does the wool that is sent to you belong to the people themselves or is it bought ?
—Those who have sheep of their own send their own wool. Those who have not perhaps get wool from the fish-curers who employ them.

15618. You stated there were three pieces of land taken from you, and you accounted for two of them, but I don't think you accounted for the third. Are they all in possession of crofters ?

15619. Did you get any reduction of rent?
—On the contrary, our rent was raised.

15620. Do you complain at the present moment of being over rented?

15621. As well as of being crowded?
—Yes, that the back hill pasture was taken from us, and that our land is too little.

15622. Are the people now rather fallen back in their circumstances from what you remember them in former days ?
—Decidedly so.

15623. Were you at one time pretty well occupied as a weaver all the year round ?
—There is not so much difference in one respect, because the population has increased compared with what it was formerly, and there are not so many people practising the weaving art as there were when I was young, but a person who could formerly give me fifteen yards to make has perhaps not more than five now.

15624. Is there a greater scarcity of milk now-a-days than there was in your former days?
—Most assuredly. Formerly when a person did a clever thing it was said of him that the black blood had gone into his bones, meaning he was well nourished upon milk and meat once a week at least; and now we have become so low in condition that those whom I have seen with ten cows, three or four cows yielding milk, cannot now keep up two cows, because of the scarcity of land, and they can never have any meat. Another thing I observed, when I was working as a servant before I married. As the Lord gave the commandment to Moses concerning the land, that it should have rest every seventh year, and that the land was bringing forth its fruit, I have seen with my own eyes when I was a young man labouring with crofters that they used to leave an acre of their land fallow in rotation every third or fourth year, and when they had completed this rotation they would begin again at the portion that had been left fallow. That ground would yield crop without any manure, but now as the land is so scarce they cannot do so any more.

15625. The Chairman.
—When you were labouring for crofters as a young man, what wages did you get ?
—It was a small wage, but better than a big wage to-day.

15626. How much was it?
—30s., 35s., or £2 in the half year.

15627. How much does a person now get in the half year?
—Some of them will now get £3 or £4 in the half year. Women do not get so much.

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