Obe, Harris, 31 May 1883 - Kenneth Macdonald

KENNETH MACDONALD, Farmer, Scarista-vore (70)—examined.

13323. The Chairman.
—You have a farm in South Harris?

13324. Have you been long resident in the country?
—I came to Harris about fifty-one years ago.

12325. Does your family belong to this country, or to another part of Scotland ?
—I don't belong to this part of the country. I am a Rossshireman.

13326. Since you have been here, what do you think of the progress of the country and its people ? Do you think they are getting worse or getting better ?
—So far as I can say conscientiously, they are getting better physically, morally, and in every sense of the word. They are better clad, and they are better fed than they were when I remember them first.

13327. Do you agree with those who state that there has been a great deterioration of the soil by overcropping ?
—Decidedly. I agree with that another cause of the deterioration of the soil is this. In my first recollection of Harris, I remember in the winter time the first thing a man did was to go and clear the snow from the doors, and we had a great deal of frost. There is nothing of that now. The frost congested the soil so that nothing of the sap was lost, but we have perpetual rains now, which drive away the sap. I believe that has as much to do with the deterioration of the land as overcropping. Overcropping we know will exhaust the soil.

13328. Then you think the climate has altered, and altered for the worse?
—For the worse, because we very seldom see snow, and frost we have no continuance of, which was not in my first recollection.

13329. If, in your recollection, the land has been more subdivided and more exhausted, how do you account for the fact that the people are better fed and better dressed? Do they earn more wages?
—A great deal. I believe that £200 of money comes to Harris now for every pound that came in my first recollection. There wa3 no such thing as herring fishing. There was in some places cod and ling fishing. There was no such thing as lobster fishing. I happen to be an agent of the first company that started for sending the lobsters to London. Then an enormous amount of money is brought in now for clothes by the Countess of Dunmore. I remember one year paying an account of her ladyship, £1235 for webs of cloth alone. They still go on manufacturing.

13330. Is it manufactured in hand-looms?

13331. What material do they use?
—Entirely wool grown in the island.

13332. And the dyes?
—And the dyes.

13333. Is there any of the wool of the primitive race of sheep—the old Highland sheep, or is it blackfaced and Cheviot ?
—It is blackfaced and Cheviot. The old primitive sheep are done.

13334. Can we see a specimen?
—Yes, if you go to St Kilda.

13335. Sheriff Nicolson.
—I think we saw them in South Uist?
—Yes, but you will not see them in Harris.

13336. The Chairman.
—Was the wool of fine quality?
—I cannot answer that, for I have never seen any.

13337. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How much rent do you pay yourself?

13338. You spoke about the winters now not being so severe—that is to say that frost and snow are comparatively unknown. Are high winds now more prevalent than they used to be?
—Decidedly. When there is very keen frost there is scarcely any wind at all; but now, since we have no frost and constant rains, we have blustering winds continually, principally from the S.S.W. and W.

13339. Most of the delegates who appeared before us said that the old times were better, but have you given an answer to his Lordship in the chair upon very careful consideration and observation ?
—Yes, very.

13340. You are in constant communication with the people?—Yes. I remember seeing them going to church, and the difference between the clothing and attire of the families going to church then was as different as day is from night.

13341. Is it better in reality?
—Better in reality.

13342. But one man, a country tailor, and should know better than others, at Dunvegan, called all the fine clothing the women wear " south country rags," as distinguished from their fine home-spun cloth. Do you agree with the tailor?
—I should not agree with that, for they are proverbial in Harris for their good spinning, their good weaving, and their good making of clothes for themselves, not only over Great Britain, but over the whole Continent. You hear of Harris tweeds here, there, and everywhere. My coat was grown on the farm, woven on the farm, and made on the farm.

13343. But many of the people state here that for want of sheep, and being overcrowded, they are not able to spin, and they would like to go back to the old times?
—Well, so far as South Harris is concerned, of the number of sheep I can say nothing. Of North Harris I can give every sheep every man has.

13344. We have been told, and I believe, and it is pretty generally supposed, that the temper of the people is much sobered in amusements and otherwise, and that they are not so jovial, and there is not so much amusement in the way of singing'and dancing as there was in their younger days. Is that so or not ?
—Possibly so. They are very sober and most respectable people. I don't believe you could find in any other part of Scotland people more sober.

13345. Sheriff Nicolson.
—But do you use the word sober in the sense of being quiet, or as regards temperance—as to their being very steady ?
—They are very steady.

13346. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you any poets or bards among you ?
—Yes, there was one celebrated poet, but he died about two years ago. The Harris bard, he was always called.

13347. What was his name?
—Neil Mackinnon.

13348. Where did he stay?

13349. I wish to put a question or two in regard to the proprietors of this estate, so far as you know, from the time it left the M'Leods. Who was the first proprietor from the main branch?
—Captain M'Leod, son of Sir Norman M'Leod.

13350. Was he a purchaser ?
—He was the first purchaser. He was the first purchaser from M'Leod of M'Leod.

13351. How many generations of these M'Leods were'there?
—There were three. Captain M'Leod's son was Mr Hugh M'Leod, but he took his mother's name of Hume, and his son Alexander was the last proprietor of Harris, who sold it to the present Lord Dunmore's grandfather.

13352. How far back was that?
—Lord Duumore bought it forty-nineyears ago.

13353. What was the price? Do you know the price?
—£60,000 for the estate, and £500 for the purchase of the patronage = £60,500. Tradition said that £15,000 was the price originally paid for it to M'Leod of M'Leod.

13354. We have been told there is a small portion of Harris—the lands of Ensay and Pabbay—belonging to Mr Stewart. When were they sold ?
—By the present Lord Dunmore, not very many years ago.

13355. And he also sold North Harris ?

13356. It was the present Lord Dunmore who sold the whole?

13357. To Sir Edward Scott?

13358. The Chairman.
—Are you able to tell us about Bernera in old times ?
—Sir Norman was the whole tacksman. He had not it as property at all. He was a tacksman under M'Leod.

13359. And did he live at the tacksman's end or at the crofters' end?
—He lived in the end which the crofters have now—much about the middle of the island.

13360. Are there any remains of his old house ?
—The walls. He lived in a thatched house.

13361. Do you think he had a large population of crofters and cottars in those days ?
—I am sure he had not. He just had the servants—all those about him who could work a farm.

13362. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Where there some evictions which you remember, from the place where you are now living ?

13363. When was that?
—I can hardly condescend upon the date. It is over forty years ago, I believe.

13364. Were there not very severe measures resorted to for removing the people ?
—Decidedly—very severe.

13365. Was not the Black Watch actually called upon to take part in that unpleasant work?
—No, it was not the Black Watch, it was the 78th.

13366. Where did they come from?
—They were brought all the way from Fort George.

13367. And where were the people transported to?
—I cannot tell, but I believe they were scattered and transplanted here and there in the country.

13368. You don't think they were carried to the colonies?
—Oh, no.

13369. The Chairman.
—They may have emigrated?
—I cannot remember. I believe a few of them did emigrate, but I cannot say how many

13370. Have you ever seen any correspondence between emigrants to America from this island and their relatives in this country ?
—I have.

13371. Was it of a satisfactory kind ?
—Most satisfactory. I knew one man who left North Harris. He was not driven away. He was a very iudustrious man, and in consequence of his industry he now drives to church in his carriage in Australia. His name is Allan M'Leod. There are various others I know of who went to America, and I had letters from them.

13372. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Were they voluntary emigrants ?
—Voluntary emigrants. There was one man, John Campbell, a shoemaker and cottar, who went to America with some others, and most satisfactory accounts were received from him, expressing the comfort he is enjoying. He is in Canada.

13373. Are you aware there is a great disinclination to emigrate?
—I am.

13374. Does it exist here?
—Yes, I know it for a fact, because I have been making inquiries and making overtures to parties, if they choose to go, to give them every advantage and assistance, and not only assistance to take them there, but assistance to see them comfortably planted there.

13375. To what do you attribute this disinclination ?
-My idea is that it is the want of education, and that as education progresses the disinclination will disappear. Such is my idea.

13376. Had you ever to do with this estate at any time?
—I had.

13377. Were you factor?
—For a short time.

13378. Who stays at Rodel now ?
—I believe the house is being prepared for his Lordship.

13379. There is no resident tenant now?

13380. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Have you had any visit in the island of Harris from gentlemen who have visited some of the other islands endeavouring to enlighten the people as to their rights, and to stir them up to do something to better their position?
—If you are kind enough to let me know the gentlemen you refer to, I shall answer the question, but not till then.

13381. I am not going to name them, because there are some we are not entirely acquainted with, but there have been persons who have visited the island of Skye, and other islands, to stir up the people?
—They dare not show their faces in Harris. I was told there was a very celebrated man speechifying on the pier at Tarbert, about ten days ago, the editor
of the Highlander, and that is the only man who I ever heard came to Harris at all.

13382. Did he not get a good reception?
—I cannot tell, because I was thirteen and a half miles away.

13383. So that any expression we have heard to-day of grievances that the people here or in the adjacent islands are suffering from, is entirely spontaneous, and has not been stirred up in their minds by persons outside ?
—I don't believe it was. I think it was entirely spontaneous.

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