Stornoway, Lewis, 11 June 1883 - Alexander Murray

ALEXANDER MURRAY, Merchant, Stornoway (46)—examined.

17177. Mr Cameron.
—Whom do you represent?
—Parties who have Murray. grazing lands outside the boundary of Stornoway.

17178. Have you any statement on the subject?

17179. Will you kindly make it?
—Under the Seaforth family the town had from 80 to 100 head of cattle and about two square miles of moorland to graze them on. This moorland extended almost in a straight line from the Stornoway mill to the Creed river, north and south of the Lochs road. That portion of the moorland to the south was used for
wintering, and that to the north for summering. The rent was 10s. per head of cattle, always paid in advance. The townspeople had arable ground in Goat-hill rented to them in rigs or acres at from £ 2 , 6s. to £6 sterling per Scotch acre. Dykes were made by the tenants. Some of the townspeople had three head of cattle, and a goodly number had two. These having lands used to have potatoes all the year round, grown on their own lands, besides some oat and barley meal. The people were comfortable and well to do. There was no poor rate, or its demoralising tendencies; good schools and good scholars, without an expensive and cumbersome School Board system; no police and no police rate; only one lawyer in the Lewis, and he not overburdened with work. Until recently, we always had a Gaelicspeaking sheriff. The Lewis under the Seaforths was happy and contented, —well fed, well clothed, and imported little if any meal or food of any kind. The old potatoes saw the new in; the surplus of grain they were able to sell was sufficient to keep a large distillery going in Stornoway and no small number of illicit stills, and every man made his own home-brewed nutbrown ale. The legal and illicit stills are gone long syne, and poverty has made the crofters forego their nut-brown ale. Tradesmen and crofters put aside each year their winter stock of beef and mutton. The crofters were able to sell in town their own butter. Neither butter nor cheese was imported, the island producing sufficient for its wants. They did not know what it was to want. In those days the few poor were as well fed and clothed as their neighbours, who from their own fulness supplied those who were indigent. There was no word in those days of the lazy Lewisman. They got sufficient land to keep them employed, and sufficient returns from it to keep them out of debt. No wonder that the past generation spoke of the Seaforth family with affectionate reverence. The late Sir James Matheson bought the island of Lewis in June 1844, and in November of the same year deprived the townspeople of all their summer grazings, and began to enclose the same and to plant it with young wood. This portion is now called Lewis Castle policies. The town being now confined to their summer grazings, the inhabitants saw it was hopeless to keep on their stock, and gradually began to sell them off. A few years thereafter the Goat-hill lands were gradually taken from them, park by park, until about 1854 they had no arable land on Goat-hill. No compensation was given for dykes or improvements. All that the townspeople have now are two parks in Goat-hill for grazing. One park of about 5 acres paid a rent of £20, which this year was reduced to £15,—the other park, of 6½ acres, paying £22, 10s, The number of cattle on these parks is fifteen. The Goat-hill lands were attached to the Manor farm and to the Goat-hill farm. About 1869 the estate took Goat-hill farm into their own hands and turned it into a dairy farm, and shortly after raised the price of milk. The price of milk all the year round prior to 1869 was fourpence per half gallon. In 1869 the price was raised by the estate management to sixpence per half gallon from November to May, and back to fourpence from June to October. The milk supply comes now from the farms of Goat-hill, Melbost, Holm, and Stoneyfield. Goat-hill since 1869 is in the hands of a tenant. As regards evictions, the last of them occurred about five years ago in widow Park. I shall also ask leave to call attention to some remarks made on the crofting system, which has never been properly handled by any one.

17180. We do dot wish your own views of the crofting system, because we have not time to go into it. If any witness has stated facts which you wish to dispute you may do so?
—The total area of the Lewis is 417,460 acres.

17181. We have evidence from the Ordnance Survey map, and we cannot go into that. If you will answer any question on the subject of want of milk, or the taking of pasture lands from Stornoway, we shall be satisfied. Who exactly are the people of Stornoway whom you represent ?
—The inhabitants of the town.

17182. They are not crofters ?
—They had these lands outside the town.

17183. Were they crofters ?
—Some of them were crofters in a sense of the word, others were tradesmen who had a bit of croft—two or three acres.

17184. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How did they make their living? Did they ever make their living by the land ?
—They were tradesmen, and the lands were a help to them; and they feel the want of them now.

17185. Then they were deprived of those lands by Sir James Matheson ?

17186. And he took the ground into his hands for the purpose of making a park ?
—For the purpose of making parks, and he lotted it into farms. Part was given to the Home farm, and part to the Goat-hill farm; the remaining three parts were given to the townspeople.

17187. Is Goat-hill let to a tacksman ?
—Part of the hill is attached to the Goat-hill farm, and part is attached to the manor farm. Three parks are held by parties in the town for grazing purposes—at least two for grazing purposes, and one is arable.

17188. Are they parties who had not any of these lands before?
—They had not any of these lands before.

17189. Has the rent of the portion given to these three persons been increased ?

17190. Do they keep cows upon these parks ?

17191. And supply the town with milk ?
—Some families don't use all  the milk; they sell the surplus.

17192. They are not dairy farmers?

17193. Are there still a few people in the town who have grass for a cow ?
—There are fifteen cows belonging to the town in those parks.

17194. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I understand your grievance to be this, that the moment Sir James Matheson bought the property, some crofters and other people who were paying small rents outside the burgh boundaries for grass for their cows were dispossessed, and have thereby suffered very great inconvenience ?
—That is so.

17195. And not only so, but detriment to the younger members of their families in the want of milk ?

17196. Was any reason ever alleged for that act ?
—No reason alleged.

17197. Of course, the taking away of the ground and adding it to the policies may be some reason, but there was no reason for giving it to tacksmen ?
—There was no reason for taking it for the use of the policies, or giving it to the farmers. The ground was well tilled.

17198. Were remonstrances made at the time or at any other time?
—I do not think there was much use in doing so.

17199. But under the present chamberlain, when any of those leases fall out, would it not be wise for the people to apply to him, and offer at least some rent?
—It would be very wise, if there was any chance of getting it.

17200. And a wise thing for the landlord to consent to?
—I think so.

17201. What is the value of this land, in respect of being in the neighbourhood of the town, for dairy purposes?
—It used to be rented to the township at from 37s. to 48s. per imperial acre.

17202. What would be the value of it now, considering its situation in regard to the town, for dairy purposes ?
—As to the parks that are already let, one is let at £ 2 per acre, the other at about £3, 15s.

17203. What is done with the milk that is produced on those parks now ?
—It is mostly used by the family that owns the cow.

17204. Is there not enough of land to keep more than one cow for each family ?
—Some families have two cows.

17205. Supposing the chamberlain were willing to let the people of Stornoway or the crofters have moorland, where could that land be obtained ?
—It could be obtained on the ground which is in the hands of the estate.

17206. Which is on the home farm?
—There is no moorland attached to the home farm.

17207. What becomes of the milk produced on the home farm?
—There is no milk produced on the home farm for sale, so far as I am aware.

17208. Don't they keep cows?
—Not that I am aware of. The Goathill farm is in the hands of another tenant. That farm still sends milk into the town.

17209. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How many people were deprived of this privilege by Sir James ?
—I cannot tell

17210. Was it a considerable number of inhabitants?
—A considerable number.

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