CHARLES MACKENZIE MACRAE, M.D. (65)—examined.
16661. The Chairman.
—You were elected at a meeting in Stornoway, presided over by the chief magistrate, to come here and speak on the land question ?
16662. Have you a statement to make to the Commission?
—I have drawn up a few notes, thinking I could convey the little I have to say in this form better than I could in the way of answering questions, for which I have no particular aptitude.
16663. We shall be very glad to hear your paper?
—The pressure of the times, as felt in the Highlands and Isles, varies in nature and severity in different localities. In each there are, from recent experience, lessons to be learned and suggestions for the future, claiming the careful study of every lover of his country. In Lewis as elsewhere the parties chiefly interested, the rulers and the ruled, have already to some extent given expression to their sentiments on the present crisis; the Supervision Board also as it affected its own province; and perhaps in the nature of things, it was inevitable that the relative viewpoint of parties should give its distinctive, if not a one-sided colouring to the pictures they drew. The Poor Law functionary came to his scrutiny strong in a cold belief in the elasticity of legal charity. After having to deal before with evasions and distortions of fact, backing appeals of relief by the poor, he judges partly from past experience, notes carefully every semblance of prosperity, and distrusts the famine cry when starvation was imminent The landlord party, strong in a traditional fame for good government and fair treatment of tenantry, naturally resented the imputation of oppression, or any wrong that could have grown into system otherwise than insidiously and unawares. And the sheep farming process, denounced by the crofter as the encroachment of the lower animals on the rightful domain of the tillers of the toil, had become so commonplace and approved as middle class farming, and removal elsewhere the right safety valve for a plethora of people, that it seemed not to admit of question that all available space for crofter holdings had been exhausted in the demand for large farms, deer forests, and sporting grounds. The crofter, on the other hand, protests that he has suffered long and grievously in his pinched and cribbed condition, bearing long in silence, until his smothered discontent caught the glow and felt the spur of the general land agitation, and now makes known by respectful petition and other demonstrations how sorely he feels aggrieved. Many, ready enough to denounce oppression out of sympathy with the crofter, incline to think his real condition was largely concealed by his patient and passive submission to hardship—and endurance arising, as he now represents, not from contentment or stolidity, but from sheer dread of arbitrary power. It is not surprising if acts of tyranny and misrule seemed incredible to such as knew the large outlays incurred by the late proprietor with a benevolent purpose the vast sums expended on the reclaiming of moorland and on public works during the destitution of 1847, of which he bore the brunt singly —on extensive and repeated emigration—on postal communication, on roads, bridges, the patent slip, and other projects, and specially on the erection of schools and support of teachers in the pressing demand for education prior to the national system. Any statement belying such beneficence on the part of the superior may reasonably be referred to misguided counsel, to errors in judgment and management on the part of some former officials, not fitted by the right experience or special wisdom for a charge of such gravity. Hence the objectionable methods resorted to with the object of averting pauperism, swelling the rentals, with the view of securing a fair pecuniary return for expenditure. Hence the failure to stimulate the tenantry to utilise the resources of land and sea, to adopt better modes of land culture, and better habits o f thrift and industry, and to enlighten them generally; how best to help themselves. When thus attending to estate management, may I add that, as far as known to me, the gentleman presently in charge justly possesses the people's confidence, as seeking with all the impartiality in his power to serve the dual yet common interests involved. It is safe to say, however, that while a single factor may overtake the mere business transactions and exactions of this estate, the additional duties devolving on property in the right and adequate oversight of some 25,000 crofter population, with all the lessons they need in their present stage of transition, mean a task and a responsibility that seems too great for any one individual, however competent. The chapter of grievances thus accumulated consists to some extent of errors of head as much as of heart. In some respects, they are faults of a system that had become stereotyped, and retained from a kind of conservatism as the proper ancient order of things—a policy the evils of which appear worst in retrospect, viewed in the light shed on popular rights by a more forward civilisation. The detail of grievances from the modern point of view may well be left to the crofters themselves ; while the main complaint of cottars is the withholding of laud, the grievance of crofters, rising above all petty disabilities, is the smallness of holdings, and in many cases alleged unfairness in the modes of diminishing their former extent without any abatement of rent. They speak of the paring and curtailing and abstracting of pasture lands to enlarge tacks and straighten boundaries, or to create new crofts, but with no deduction of rental to the former possessors,—rather in some cases an alleged arbitrary increase. They tell of processes of depopulation, and causing crofters who remain in the island to be removed from one district to be planted on the borders of another, or wedged into the vacancies of a township already overpeopled. At the same time, they contend that while the population has thus largely outgrown the arable area of land to which they are restricted, that yet the island itself is not overpeopled, and that poverty and chronic destitution are very much the result of insufficiency of land. And the opinion is firmly held, that along with other sources of subsistence increasing year by year, the land resources of the island, if wisely developed and appropriated, are equal to the maintenance and comfort of a much larger population than now occupies it. In this belief a strong current has set in recently against emigration, and none the less that it has been held up so much as the present panacea with landowners and other philanthropists for general land ailments. It is no doubt true that in these districts, more especially wherein land produce and stock are the sole dependence, a disposition has occasionally sprung up in hard times to leave the native soil, and exchange home drudgery for better prospects beyond sea, particularly when friends gone before may be holding out brighter days, inviting to follow, and offering help. It may be that, in such circumstances, there has been imprudence shown in repressing the emigration spirit, when perhaps the proper course should be meanwhile neither to foster nor restrain it, unless advised either way, plainly appearing to the people impartial, and given from a sense of duty. Emigration, that should approve itself as judicious and beneficial alike to the emigrant and those left behind, must move on some such lines as these, viz., first, it must be entirely voluntary, and at the same time, when spontaneously resolved upon, should be generously aided and kindly directed, to move not in isolated units, but in family groups, of which the younger members at least should be sufficiently educated and fitted to face a wider sphere than the circles of purely Celtic intercourse. Secondly, it must, as regards the home field, prove a thinning rather than the crowding process which it has proved as hitherto conducted. Formerly, when a township was being depopulated, such as declined to emigrate were usually disposed of by being transplanted into villages already much too densely occupied, and thus lessening rather than increasing the home provision. Thirdly, it must embrace careful provision for the well-being of the emigrants in the land of their adoption; planting them (if in sufficient numbers) in small land colonies, with a few skilled farmers intermixed, to teach by example the proper working of new fields of labour—and providing likewise pastoral oversight and educational appliances such as they enjoyed at home. In removing even to the most suitable parts of our colonies, Lewismen have learned that their home habits, language, and lack of culture must entail many hardships ere they can adapt themselves to the new order of things. It is not surprising therefore, if they turn eagerly to the resources and capabilities of their native isle which yet remain to be developed. To such as are not blinded by foregone conclusions, it is very obvious that the home resources, alike of land and sea, are by no means exhausted, but are rather in the incipient stage of being turned to profitable account. Many think that fishing and land culture would prosper best disjoined. But there are incidents of climate and season which seem to show that in the present stage of advancement they may with advantage be combined. In either directions there is yet ample room and to spare at home for exertion, and crofters with the two-fold occupation may be accommodated for years to come, in the land of their birth, and that not with any obvious apparent sacrifice of the landlord interest. A strong impression prevails that if the proprietrix were given to understand that such new or extended allotments would eventually result in mutual benefit to all concerned, she would gracefully concede the prayer of the crofters' humble petition—which to grant would be in harmony, not only with her own most generous actings, but with the whole tenor of the beneficent and patriotic example of her lamented husband, our late proprietor. To provide for the surplus population, yet without any holding, it is reasonable to submit
—1. That the large tracts of arable and pasture lands adjacent to good harbours and fishing ground, presently held by tacksmen, should when out of lease be allocated to crofters on fair terms of rent and lease. Such eligible localities there are of considerable extent in the parishes of Uig, Lochs, and Stornoway, extensive enough to accommodate many hundreds of cottars and squatters presently without any holding.
2. There lie on the outskirts of the arable and cultivated lands in nearly all the old villages or townships, tracts of bleak, but in parts very reclaimable, lands, from which the moss has been stripped for fuel, as used up by successive generations. These large spaces of denuded and exposed subsoil form part of the so-called common pasture Charles ground usually styled 'backing' or 'cul' by the crofters. As such, however, their present benefit of said backing is more imaginary than real. They are generally eyesores to look at, black and rugged-looking, here moss bogs, there patches of gravel, with tufts of heather interspersed, and altogether of little or no service to man or beast. Owing to the very level or slightly undulating character of Lewis land, and the very workable subsoil in many places, these outlying clearances from moss are for most very susceptible of being converted into grassgrown pasture or corn-producing land. Of such, there are several large tracts to be found convenient to fishing stations, and very convertible into croft allotments. Such exist extensively in Ness on the moorland side of Lionel, Habost, and Swainbost, in Lochs, also beside fishing inlets, and on both sides of Broad Bay and other parts of Stornoway parish. When such moss stripped land is indispensable for pasture, and cannot well be apportioned in crofting, they might be so appended as to enlarge old lots when contiguous and previously too small; and townships so situated and divided into sections of three or four crofters each, might combine to claim each section, getting a proportion of acres in partnership, to be gradually trenched, laid out in crop or pasture, and fenced with foal or stone, both commonly at hand. Thus, the now bleak and almost useless moorland could be turned into separate and protected grass enclosures, transformed into the grazing so much in demand, but one acre of which so converted would be more valuable for pasture than a score in its present condition, and the Lewis waste and so called bog land would to a large extent gradually assume the aspect of lowland-like culture and fertility. By this method many crofts now too small might easily be enlarged. And in fishing villages particularly (in others also) enclosed grazings would besides other benefits save herding of cattle by children, and so remove one main obstacle to school attendance. Were the entire crofts to share the benefit of this trenching, draining, and fencing process, the way would be paved for another improvement in croft farming, viz., rotation of cropping, and laying out portions under grass in succession. This suggests that throughout the crofter land
3. An improved husbandry is much needed to give proper justice to the soil. Generally but a small portion of crofter land has been properly drained or trenched ; scarcely any properly fenced. On the western seaboard, where they depend most on land produce, waste interspaces, stone cairns above and under ground, water-logged furrows, and wet tortuous rigs, still abound as they have done for generations, and grazing grounds are conducted still on a system of ill-managed communism, and giving no scope to individual industry or efforts. With a better system of tillage, and under fairly adjusted terms of lease, rental, and compensation, there is no reason why the croft should not cope acre for acre in productiveness and return acre for acre with the large arable farm. In this matter the last hard season, with its sore privation to the crofter, reads a lesson not to be neglected. Tacksmen generally secured and preserved their grain and hay crops in fair order, and their return of potatoes such in quantity and quality that in several instances a portion was profitably sold. The reason of the difference was that the tacksman's land from proper culture was dry and kindly enough to admit of early sowing. So well fenced and protected, that all seeds were put seasonably in the soil, and being healthy from frequent change of seed, their stronger crops were much less injured by the ungenial season, while by rotation of cropping this soil had attained and maintained a state of fair average productiveness. It is quite practicable to transform the crofter's land to yield the same satisfactory results by like skill and proper husbandry. Given, on equitable terms, a holding of some six acres in fishing districts—eight to ten in purely agricultural parts,—guarded against subdivision and squatting—restricted to summing according to rental and grazing—the charge of hill stock, when existing, committed to a competent common herd. Given also adequate stimulus to treat the soil on the improved system of culture—to alternate rest and cropping, and so arranging that two or more neighbours could show not only a common fence, but also common implements, so far as to lighten materially their toil, one plough and pair of harrows would serve three crofts,—with these advantages the earth would yield her increase as never before, the crofters' burden and drudgery would be lightened, the miserable exposure of children in herding (thus one great hindrance to education removed), would nearly cease; and some progress made towards a comfort and prosperity less liable to the violent fluctuations that have hitherto affected land returns. The crofters' domiciles also as well as their crofts very generally need thorough remodelling. In three-fourths of them is no regard paid to science in site, style of erection, or sanitary safeguards. Even when walls, roof, and separate apartments are passable, the surroundings are sadly neglected,—without proper roadway levelling or drainage. Some planted so in peat banks and hollows, or between earth mounds or on moss-imbedded boulders, that draining is scarcely possible, and hence reeking cesspools and unhealthy stagnation of a variety of things offensive within and without, leading, it would almost seem in the worst examples, from long association, to a general tolerance of filth as if it were a vested interest. Reform in this direction lies not only with landlords, but with all empowered to secure to our loyal islanders the full benefits of civilisation and the rightful fruit of their labour. But, fourthly, it is clear, that however much the maintenance of Lewis crofters may be supplemented by land reforms, its mainspring and staple source must be looked for from the fisheries, for which the shores are so well adapted. Precarious as weather and climate are, and often the cause of failure for a season, the people ever cling with hopeful expectancy to the prospect of coming success, and now more than ever, seeing that a cheering beginning has been made in the construction of harbours, for the safety and encouragement of our adventurous fishermen, it is earnestly hoped that each parish shall ultimately be provided with a port of safety, with landing place, breakwater, pier or quay as may suit, at the most suitable fishing centres. No doubt, eventually, the fishings shall be prosecuted more extensively, more profitably, and on a better system than hitherto. Much good would result were it possible to modify or entirely remove such drawbacks as the credit and truck system, specially as they affect the cod and ling fishings. The system oft inflicts loss on the curer, demoralises the fisherman by offering facilities for dishonesty and the contraction of debt, and presses most on the honest solvent fisherman who pays the curer the high percentage on his goods, based on his calculation of loss, while the price of fish is uniform to the honest and dishonest. In much the same category may be placed the bounty system now universal in the herring trade—a gratuity in the way of airles—it may be more than some earnings in bad seasons. A high bonus for the privilege of being fished for—should the fish never come—a principle very liable to abuse, and tending to foster anything but enterprise on the part of fishermen. Among the projects mooted for the promotion of our fisheries, telegraphic communication between Stornoway and the principal fishing stations round the coast is specially important, as will be urged by special delegates. Probably, in course of time, the way might thus be prepared for another scheme also mooted, the construction of a line of tramway communication between the same west coast and Stornoway, say from Ness and Carloway, in separate lines, or forming a junction at some points. The proved appositeness and vantage of these western stations for deep-sea fishing, and probably also for early herring fishing, point out the gain of connecting them with the nearest steam and railway termini, and so with the southern markets. The greater value of fresh fish and other products in saleable condition would give immense impulse to the fishing interest and to general traffic —speedy sale being furnished not only for ling, cod, herring, salmon, and lobster, but for every commodity the island could supply for immediate consumption. Such a line would be facilitated and cheapened by the level character of the interior. It might be made available also for the transport of peat fuel from the vast accumulations of moss it would pass through. In Stornoway this fuel is becoming yearly more costly, and a cheaper supply would greatly benefit especially the working classes and the pauper population that have flocked so eagerly into the town. The export trade in fuel, now small, would also readily increase, give considerable employment, and enlarge the moss-divested clearances. But, however much such measures for extracting their wealth from sea and land may conduce to our material welfare, it must be borne in mind —lastly, that the great lever for upraising islemen from their depressed condition, the sure highway to genuine progress must be looked for. In the train of a thorough education permeating the entire social fabric. It must be confessed that Lewis is not yet in the way of reaping the full benefit of its educational machinery, and this very much because the school is unhappily associated with high rates and oppressive burdens in the minds of a people long indifferent to its value, and seeing little in taxation to render it attractive. Hence are the advantages of regular school attendance persistently sacrificed to the most paltry excuses, such as irregularity of diet, deficient clothing, “or bad shoes—the herding of cattle —the nursing of infants—the illness of some member of the family—the pretence of slight illness—the dread of infection, real or assumed—the merest whims of the children—in short, the various shifts which parents accept or connive at when they themselves never realised their need of being taught, when the cost, however small, is grudged, and the great boon nauseated on account of its concomitants. When the enforcement of school attendance has to face such difficulties, it is a question worthy the study of a paternal Government if among such classes as the long down-trodden Hebrideans, education should not at their present stage be presented on the footing of a free gift—and not only fees remitted, but school attendance secured by premium of some sort rather than by penalty. In the domain of intellectual culture, much remains to be attained by Lewismen ere they reach in educational advantages to parity with more favoured communities. When the curriculum of the elementary school has been completed, and the more vigorous native intellects have penetrated the dense crust which has long enveloped them, and, having imbibed the love of knowledge, are eagerly desirous of higher attainments, they find progress arrested by the want of a more advanced school Hence, one of our most pressing wants is an institute for the higher
instruction, efficient of staff, easy of access, and available on their own soil for promising youths of straitened means, but superior endowment. On this subject the following representation has been made by the Stornoway School Board to the Education Department:
—School Board of Stornoway, Stornoway, 21st Nov. 1882.
—In reply to your circular of April last, on the subject of higher education, I am instructed by the Stornoway School Board to state that there is no school under their management, or in the whole island of Lewis, in which provision is made for secondary education. All the Lewis schools are elementary, and as the board schools are situated in rural districts, and at great distances from each other, it is impossible to convert any of them into a central higher class school. The only schools that could be made such are those in the towns of Stornoway, but the board regret that none of these is under their management, nor, meanwhile, likely to be transferred. These Stornoway schools are three in number, viz., " Lady Matheson's Seminary," an industrial school for girls and young boys, and supported mainly by the proprietrix of the island, a "Free Church Congregational School," and the " Nicolson Institution," a partially endowed school Were all these handed over, a higher school might be reached by the graded system. Were even one transferred to the board it would greatly facilitate the taking of steps towards the attainment of secondary education. But as matters now stand nothing can be done in this direction. The town schools supply sufficient school accommodation for all the children of school age, and the people could not face the expense of building a new school, being too poor, and already much too heavily taxed for the support of the existing schools, besides their other parochial burdens. The circumstances of the people are altogether exceptional, and in the matter of higher education, they are really worse off than they were previous to the passing of the Education Act. The large population of the island (now close on 30,000), and the inability of the people generally to send their children to a distance out of the island to be more highly educated, render it imperative that provision be made without delay for supplying near home the advantages of secondary education, at least such as would give islanders the preparatory training so commonly accessible on the mainland, qualifying pupils for the universities, for normal schools, for the teaching vocation, and for other special professional, intellectual, and mercantile pursuits. Were such a higher class school established in Stornoway, it would not only meet a greatly felt want in Lewis, but would serve also as a higher class school for the adjacent islands. Already has the State adopted Stornoway as the most fitting central seat of naval instruction for the natives of the Outer Hebrides and western seaboard of Ross-shire and Inverness-shire joining the Naval Reserves. It would suit equally as the best central position for a higher educational school convenient to islesmen and others throughout the same wide area. The School Board of Stornoway earnestly hope that their Lordships will recognise the very great necessity and benefit of such an inestimable boon to their island, and the peculiar difficulties in the way of attaining it by local effort, and that they may be able to suggest or devise, in concert with the Endowment Commissioners or otherwise, some resources by the aid of which such a school could be established. The board feel confident that by the greater facility for study afforded by such a school, properly equipped and easy of access, the desire for education and higher attainment, already largely created by the extension of primary schools, would be greatly stimulated, and one great barrier to the upward progress of Hebrideans, an old and real educational disability, would no longer exist. The board further beg leave humbly to submit that to provide such a pressing requirement for the benefit of a truly loyal and lawabiding community, who are utterly unable herein to help themselves, and who have long pined in intellectual darkness and penury, were an act of generous legislation well becoming a paternal Government that has been wont, even in exceptional instances, to prove itself prompt and liberal in remedy wherever grievance or necessity, specially affecting the poor, were, as in this case, so very palpable and urgent.' From the board's letter to the Education Department it will be seen that this town has no school under the control of the School Board, or subject to any modification or change which the ratepayers may be desirous to effect, in the way of obtaining a better and more advanced education for the children. A strong application is about to be made also to the Endowment Commissioners and likewise to the directors of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge for their assistance in obtaining the boon —and may we not hope that these efforts will be approved and seconded as well as our other needed reforms effectually enforced and secured to us by the Royal Crofters Commission. Great and lasting will our obligations be if as the result of your patient and onerous labours difficult problems now pressing for solution will be cleared up—our home industries better developed, our social condition raised, the relationship of landlord and tenant thoroughly adjusted—the poor crofter's heart cheered, his heavy burdens lightened, his sorest land grievances ended, and the humblest among them set on the path of upward ascent from the very rear to the very forefront of civilisation. In looking hopefully to Government, we know the reproach of inveterate begging and petitioning—we know the great difficulties in the way of exceptional legislation, but we do think if our Legislature were fully informed and suitably impressed with our uphill encumbrances, with the unequal burdens and dead weights we bear beyond most of our fellow-countrymen, and that need to be removed ere we stand on a par,—fitted fairly to advance on equal terms,—a generous statesmanship would devise steps and arrangements so to facilitate our progress that we should shortly march abreast with any other Briton in civil and social life, as in sterling character and manly daring, on the ocean wave or battlefield.
16664. You are a native of the island, I think?
16665. Have you resided almost permanently in the Lewis?
16666. You refer at the commencement of the statement to certain improvements, outlays on a patent slip, and so on. Have improvements taken place in the Lewis in your time?
16667. In a paper sent to the Commission, a petition from the crofters to the Prime Minister, it mentioned that while in the aggregate the rent of the land had been more than doubled during the last forty years, there had been no improvements during that time worth adverting to. That is not your opinion ?
—It is not my opinion.
16668. You think there have been considerable improvements?
—I have specified the large extent of land reclaimed, such as at Deanston, perhaps not a profitable subject for the proprietor—but there has been a great deal done; and over at Shawbost there has been a great deal reclaimed and let to crofters, and at various other places.
16669. The land at Deanston has gone out of cultivation again?
—I believe the drains have got choked up. Deep moss reclamation is not so profitable as when you have it partially removed and access got to good subsoil.
16670. There has been a considerable amount of increase in the arable land, exclusive of Deanston ?
—A good deal.
16671. And the importance of Stornoway has very much increased in the last forty years ?
16672. With regard to family emigration, do you think any number of people would care, if assistance were given, for such a system of emigration as you refer to. Do you think many families in the would be willing to go?
—Not at present, till they see what comes of this land adventure.
16673. With regard to the schools, you said the compulsory clause does not work satisfactorily ?
—It does not.
16674. And you proposed to replace it by offering attractions to encourage good attendance ?
—Yes, or perhaps remitting the fees.
16675. In what other way would you encourage attendance?
—It is very difficult to say. We find the difficulty of securing regular attendance so great that it is worth the attention of the Legislature to suggest some measure for carrying it out. We have tried penalty, and we have sometimes listened to excuses that we could hardly fail to accept as reasonable and plausible, when perhaps they were fictitious. We cannot always say they are wrung, and we find a difficulty in punishing the pupil.
16676. Then do I understand you are not prepared to specify any remedy for that state of things?
—There have been some methods used by the Ladies' Association that encouraged children very much to attend schools—providing them with clothing, and providing them with books, and when it was difficult for them to attend on such pleas, as want of clothes and shoes, taking ways and means to supply these. I would look upon that under certain circumstances as an inducement.
16677. Are you prepared to recommend that these should be supplied out of the rates ?
—I suppose already the Parochial Board is liable for such, but it would burden the rates very much.
16678. Are Lady Matheson, the trustees of the Nicolson Institute, and the trustees of the Free Church School, averse to giving up their schools to the board? —I do not know that they are positively averse at present. There are some negotiations going on with regard to the Nicolson Institution. The trustees are presently inclined to transfer it as a whole, but the congregational school is not likely to be transfered, and Lady Matheson's seminary is working so well as it stands that perhaps there is no urgent reason why the School Board should look for its transference unless to facilitate this higher education that I
16679. But that would be a very important object?
—A very important object.
16650. Do you think the trustees of the congregational school do not see that this is a very important object ?
—There are some difficulties in regard to the transference of the Nicolson Institution that have not been cleared up. I believe they are presently before the Educational Endowments Commission.
16651. Mr Cameron.
—You say you think that large tracts of arable and pastoral land in the vicinity of the sea might be allocated to crofters, and I think you referred to the three parishes of Uig, Lochs, and Stornoway; are you pretty well acquainted with the land to which you refer ?
16682. Have you had any experience yourself of farming ?
16683. What parish are you a native of ?
—The parish of Barvas.
16684. Do you consider the quality of the land in those parishes to be susceptible of improvement?
—In some places I consider it is susceptible of improvement, particularly where it is seen what kind of subsoil is exposed after the removal of the moss. In some places the moss has been all thoroughly removed, otherwise there are thousands of acres in the parish of Ness that are perfectly reclaimable.
16685. The land you refer to in Ness is not similar to that at Deanston?
—The difference is that at Deanston the moss is very deep and the drains soft, and the crop at that deep moss is not at all so profitable. It grows grass very well, but it does not grow crops so well.
16686. And this land which you refer to is what is called backing?
—Yes; between that and the moss that has not been used for fuel.
16687. And that land consists of ground from which the moss has been removed ?
16688. What is the character of the subsoil ?
—Clay in a great many places. Where it is rock I do not consider that reclaimable. It is partly rock, but apart from that, I can point out several districts where the subsoil is by no means rock.
16689. For what purpose is that ground utilised ?
—For cul or backing, and I have stated in my paper that with a routine of cropping, and properly protecting the patches of land they have, and having a piece of grass land enclosed, they could provide pasture for their cows that would be of infinitely more service than an infinitely larger proportion of that land.
16690. What is that land used for now—for grazing?
16691. How many acres would it require of this land as it now is to feed a cow ?
—There are some patches of it where I suppose it would take twenty acres to feed all animal.
16692. And that only I presume in summer?
—Only in summer.
16693. The quality of the grass is not good?
—There are some places where there is no grass at all—just a tuft of heather here and there.
16694. And the subsoil is clay and gravel ?
16695. What treatment would you apply to this land in order to bring it into cultivation to be of use to the crofters ?
—It would need to be trenched and drained, but I think the desirable thing is protection. There is no protection to the crofters' land at present, but they are in want of fencing, and they can never carry on a proper system of cropping till the land is fenced. I mentioned a kind of way in which it might be
done, by two or three crofters getting a piece of land in partnership and having implements in common—a common plough and perhaps a pair of horses between them. A pair of horses might do for three or four crofts, but that implies that the land should be put into proper order at first.
16696. I should have thought from your description that trenching land with such a subsoil as you describe would be sufficient without draining, but you are inclined to think that draining would be also necessary ?
—In some places. Perhaps there are several places which would not require draining, such as high land where there is a fall.
16697. There is a tile manufactory on the property ?
16698. Are tile pipes made there ?
—A considerable quantity.
16699. So that the price of draining with tiles would not be so expensive as in some other islands ?
—I should think not.
16700. Now as to this process of improvement, which I suppose you will admit would be somewhat expensive, how would you propose that the expense should be borne ?
—It would depend on the terms on which the crofter would get the land, and the length of the lease. The rent at first should be more or less nominal according to the difficulty of reclaiming the land. Some parts of the soil are easily brought in and others not. Or he might get a proportion of the reclaimed lands for a certain term of years, and pay interest on improvements for the rest.
16701. You mean, as I understand, that the crofter is to improve the land and to receive it for a certain number of years rent free ?
—Yes, or for a nominal rent.
16702. Do you think the crofters could afford time to do that ?
—Well, when the weather does not admit of their carrying on the fishing. I speak of it mostly in connection with the fishing, and when fishing cannot be carried on they have a great deal of idle time on their hands.
16703. And you think that assistance either from Government or from the proprietor would be a reasonable condition of such a scheme being carried out ?
—They must require some help. I am not able to advise a proper way of carrying it out. I know some crofts where the crofter has been labouring hard at it for two or three years, and where he considers himself to have suffered very great loss by not being able to carry on the fishing while at this work, and in that case it has impoverished the man. I think, generally speaking, very few could bear to labour without some remuneration on land of that sort.
16704. So, in point of fact, it would require some assistance in money before the crofter could devote much of his time to improve the land upon a large scale ?
—I think so.
16705. And I gather from your paper and the answers you have given that your impression of the crofter is that he would be willing, if he got encouragement, to improve the land?
—I do think so.
16706. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have seen a paper which was issued some time ago about the population of the Lewis at different periods ?
16707. Is there really any authentic information as to what the population was about 1750, or is it merely supposed to be a rough estimate?
—I think it is tolerably well ascertained from information, possessed chiefly by the clergy I think.
16708. You are well acquainted with the island, and have seen what has been in cultivation ?
16709. You are also aware that a very large contingent from the island of Lewis was formerly ordered to be called out by the Seaforth family ?
16710. Well, supposing the population was only 7000 as alleged, how many men out of these 7000 were fit to bear arms ? I suppose you would not make a higher proportion than one out of ten ?
—Perhaps, about that
16711. That would only give 700 men?
16712. Are you aware that a charter was granted to the burgh of Stornoway about two hundred years ago ?
16713. Does that now exist?
—No, I think it is not in force.
16714. Are you aware that it conveyed considerable advantages and privileges to the then inhabitants of Stornoway ?
16715. Which they have lost ?
16716 Are you aware that, after Sir James Matheson acquired the property, he applied for the right to the foreshore ?
16717. Was that a further deprivation of the rights of the people of Stornoway ?
—They consider it so.
16718. A severe deprivation ?
16719. Are you also aware he made a claim upon the old harbour which had been constructed by the money of the people of Stornoway, or claimed certain rights over it ?
—He claimed certain rights over it.
16720. And that was a matter also that created a good deal of dissatisfaction ?
16721. You mentioned that among the improvements which were made and the money that was laid out in Sir James Matheson's time, there was the erection of a patent slip, and you say that was very much for the benefit of the crofters of the Lewis?
—Not directly for the crofters.
16722. But no doubt it was in favour of the trade of the place?
16723. You have stated in your very valuable and interesting paper that you regret that the crofters have not been better instructed in the matter of tillage and cultivation. Would it not have been a wise thing if a good deal of the money which has been spent in other ways had been spent in the way of giving them encouragement to improve the system of tillage?
—I think so indeed. It would be much more profitable in the long run for the proprietor and for the tenants generally. I do not think the places taken up for reclamation were judiciously chosen at all
16724. You also referred to the cottars who have no lease at present. They are anxious to get small patches of land and willing to cultivate them ?
—Yes, and have been so for a long time.
16725. That is consistent with your observation?
16726. I presume they are a large body all over the island ?
—Yes, about 700 or 800, I suppose, all over the island.
16727. You also stated, but I should like it to be a little more emphasised, that in many of the removals that took place when some people went to America, and some crowded into the other townships, it did not benefit the places from which they were removed?
—That is my opinion.
16728. In fact, very often the removals took place for the purpose of creating tacks ?
—It did not lighten the burden of those who remained in any way. It did not help those who remained to derive more benefit from the soil.
16729. You also stated that looking to the present population of the Lewis, although you are favourable to emigration in families, you consider there is ample room at present, if the lands were judiciously distributed, for all that remain ?
—Yes, that is my opinion.
16730. You also stated that it is your opinion that the crofters with enlarged holdings would be enabled to hold their own in the matter of the value of their stock and produce in the market ?
—Yes, but that referred more particularly to the produce of their lands—enabling them to sow and plant earlier and to reap earlier.
16731. I now ask you a further question—whether or not you think that the crofters, having got encouragement in this way, would be enabled to rear stock that would compete in the market with the large fanners ?
—I think they would, if the quantity of stock were reduced and the quality improved.
16732. With regard to the back lands or cul, there is no doubt that anybody who looks closely at it must see what a dreadful disfigurement it makes where the peat moss has been cleared off?
16733. You are in favour of this being reclaimed either by individual crofters or by bodies of crofters if they got encouragement to do so ?
—Yes, or in the way of extending the lots they have, where the places are contiguous.
16734. Is it not the fact that half of the expense has been done away already by the peat being cleared off?
—Yes. That is the fact in many instances.
16735. So you do two things, you avoid the dreadful disfigurement in the neighbourhood of the township, and you improve the land as land fit for cultivation? —Yes, and also improve the climate to a considerable extent.
16736. You were asked in reference to a petition put in by the crofters, in which they said there had been no improvements during the period we have adverted to. Of course, the crofters are only speaking for themselves. Will you mention anything that has been really done for the benefit of the crofters of consequence?
—Well, the schools that were provided for them by Sir James Matheson before the Education Act came into operation were a benefit. But perhaps you allude to land ?
16737. It is the land which is alluded to here, but we shall take your answer in the very fullest manner. Recollect I speak of the benefit to them for which they did not pay. Of course, anything they now pay for in the shape of rent I do not consider benefit ?
—I am not aware of any improvements on land but what rent has been charged for.
16738. You mentioned, in answer to the Chairman, that considerable improvements were made at Shawbost. For any thing that has been done there has not rent been paid by the present occupants ?
—Yes, it has.
16739. Probably you cannot tell whether the rent is a fair rent for the outlay or not, but still rent is paid ?
16740. You also made reference to the quantity of land—that a great deal of land might be taken in towards Ness. Where is that land specially ?
—On the moor side of the villages, as you go along to the port to the right hand side.
16741. You think there is a great deal of land there?
—Yes. It is pretty level; and Ness being such a fishing station now, there is not much occasion for backing or pasture land. They are in the habit of having the cattle in the houses there for a great part of the winter, except when they go to the moors in summer. The pastures are far from them.
16742. Suppose the parties got some fixity of tenure, without attaching any definite meaning to that—suppose they got some security that they would not be disturbed,—is there anything to prevent them taking in that land without any assistance whatever ?
—I do not think there is.
16743. Or any disinclination ?
—No. I think many of them would be thankful to get it.
16744. All they want is some kind of understanding or rule fixed that they will not be disturbed capriciously ?
—Yes, that on both sides they are regularly bound by engagement or lease.
16745. I understand that a number of young men for a considerable time past from the town of Stornoway are in the habit of going abroad and getting on very well in the world. Is that so ?
—Yes, it is quite true.
16746. That has been the case for a long time?
16747. And at this moment there are many young men born in Stornoway and the Lewis who are in very good positions in India and elsewhere ?
16748. Is there any reason why the crofting population of the Lewis, if they had the chance, would not raise themselves in the same degree ?
—Not the least reason.
16749. With regard to your schools, was there not some bequest left by Mr Mackinlay ?
—No, I am not aware he did. He founded bursaries in his lifetime. The year before he died he left the sum of £150, which has been divided into four bursaries, two of £15 and two of £10 each, tenable for three years. They are held by four young men who were successful in the competition.
16750. Has any assistance been given by the proprietor, or any encouragement been given to the proposed enlargement of the quays at Stornoway, which seem to be very much crowded ?
—I cannot say anything positive on that subject
16751. Is there a rent charged for laying these barrels on the roadway and otherwise ?
—I believe some of the gentlemen who are to appear in connection with the harbour business are better able to inform you on that subject than I am.
16752. At the time the home farm was attached to the castle, were there not a number of people removed ?
—Yes, a good many people were removed.
16753. What became of them?
—They have been removed into the suburbs of the town, a good many of them. Others have been moved a little further out from the town, out to Laxdale.
16754. Had most of these people cows?
—Yes, most of them.
16755. Did they use to sell any of the milk?
—Yes they did ; some of them have cows still.
16756. Did they get any compensation when they left ?
—I am not aware they did, except value for the old roofs and aid in building new houses.
16757. Professor Mackinnon.
—We have been told all over the island by the crofters that their holdings are very much too small, and by the cottars that they have none at all, and some of the cottars perhaps would be glad if they got as much as even a crofter had, we have also had evidence on the other side to the effect that the capabilities of the island are quite sufficient to maintain off the land its present population,—one gentleman stated nearly three times its present population,—and I should like to have your opinion upon that. In the first place, what do you think an enlarged holding should consist of, as a general rule?—Well, it should vary according to whether the crofter is connected with fishing or not I think that in connection with fishing villages a croft of six acres ought to be sufficient, but it might vary a little according to the quality of the land, and according to the extent of back pasture which they would have for cattle. Then, in a purely agricultural place, where they are dependent on the land, they would need nine or ten acres.
16753. Your paper stated that, from the peculiar characteristics of this place you think it proper that the crofting and fishing be combined about the harbour ?
16759. Then suppose you had a croft about the harbour extending to about six acres, and a croft inland of about ten acres, and that you had got all that could possibly be expected of reclamation from the cut, and as much as could reasonably be expected recrofted from the different tacks, you are of opinion that the present population would be provided for fully in that way ?
—I think so. That is my opinion. I think the island might accommodate even more, but I cannot say how many. There are some of the big farms perhaps that would not be adapted for crofters—I mean those that are exclusively agricultural.
16760. Mr Cameron.
—You mean pastoral ?
16761. Professor Mackinnon.
—Do you think it desirable that the big farms should be entirely done away with ?
—I would not say they should. I think the prosperity of the island is so much connected with the fishing, that if possible every crofter's lot should have access at least to a good fishing station, except where they manage to live now on land without fishing.
16762. And where the men principally subsisted upon the land distinct from the sea, would you then wish that there should be a graduated system of crofts to small farms, or do you wish them to be of a uniform size ?
—If possible, it would be better to have them graduated about fishing stations particularly, if there should be a middle class attainable, but there is a difficulty in getting arable laud to be profitable of itself in this country.
16763. Could you not have a pretty good croft that might be chiefly pastoral ?
—That is quite true.
16764. And still able to support the family that would work it?
16765. With respect to the reclamation of the cul, of which we saw a very great deal which is at present fit for nothing at all, it is neither pasture nor cropped, do you think that in some cases the crofters would be able to reclaim some of it at their own expense if they got it for a nominal rent?
—I think so.
16766. But in the event of their being assisted in reclaiming it the interest of the money would have to be paid?
—Yes, no doubt it would.
16767. But still that would be for their benefit ?
—I attach great importance to the fencing—to the people having what they reclaim exclusively to themselves. When the pasture ground is shared in common, there is not the least inducement to reclaim. I think they ought to have their lands better fenced. It would serve a great purpose.
16768. And of course the materials for fencing lie all round about ?
16769. Of course, one would always understand that in the event of money being lent for the reclaiming and the fencing it could only be upon interest, which would have to be paid back ?
16770. But still that would go for the benefit of the crofters ?
16771. So even if he paid rent in the shape of interest or otherwise, it would be for his benefit that this land was reclaimed ?
16772. If he got it for nothing without any interest that would be charity ?
—That would not do.
16773. And he does not want that ?
—He does not want that.
16774. With respect to the schools, you stated that encouragement should be given for securing regular attendance rather by reward than punishment, and that the children attending most regularly should be encouraged in some shape or form, though perhaps you could not manage to frame a particular scheme. I suppose you would not expect that much more than elementary education should be given in all the schools of the island, Stornoway excepted, but that they should be restricted to the common subjects?
—I think there is no necessity for having advanced education in the country schools. One school in Stornoway would serve not only for Lewis but for the Long Island.
16775. But at present there is no such school?
16776. And you think, by rearrangement of existing schools and bringing them under the School Board, such a school might be created?
—It might be, but there is not much likelihood of such a rearrangement at present, and there is no way of getting a central school suitable for such a school.
16777. Do you expect the Endowed Schools Commissioners will be able to solve the problem ?
—With the aid of the Crofters Commission.
16778. Has the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge not included Stornoway among the places where they would give a special grant to a better class school? Have you seen their draft scheme?
—Yes, I think there is an endowment of £60.
16779. That would be a great help?
—Yes. But I should like if we could get a building grant from Government, as other schools do. I am afraid, however, they will not give that. Possibly a proper representation might induce them to give it.
16780. The Mackinlay bursaries are confined to Lewis lads?
16781. Are the bursaries bestowed by competition?
16782. Who is the administrator?
—There are three trustees appointed by Mr Mackinlay,—two ministers and myself.
16783. It is entirely on the island ?
—Entirely on the island.
16784. Of course you have had no experience as yet of the value of that endowment ?
—There has been experience. I think there are three of the successful competitors for the first bursary, now public school teachers in this island.
16785. You expect a great deal of good out of that?—I do. If the bursary system could be extended, it would be of very material benefit to this country, and it would enable men to go and study in the grammar schools of the south.
16786. And stimulate the other schools of the island as well as Stornoway ?
16787. I suppose intellectually as well as physically there is no lack of raw material ?
—No lack of raw material
16788. Is the revenue of the Mackinlay Trust £ 150 annually ?
—No. The original sum is £150, and it has been divided into four bursaries, two of £ 15 and two of £10, tenable for three years each.
16789. And that exhausts the total capital ?
16790. And the bursaries will come to an end then ?
16791. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do you think there is any change in the physical condition of the people since the time when you were young ?
—Yes, I think there is some little change.
16792. For the better or for the worse?
—It is a more varied condition. I think there is a greater amount of comfort and a greater appearance of a civilised condition; but then I think there is a larger amount of poverty on the other hand, and there are a greater number of poor people than there were in my youth,—that is to say, people who are in difficulties for their support. There is a class of people who have availed themselves of the facilities for making money that have sprung up of late years, and that did not exist in my youth
16793. Is there any improvement in the houses of the people?
16794. In their internal accommodation ?
16795. Is there more attention to cleanliness and to sanitary laws?
—Yes, but there is still much to be done.
16796. Is it possible by estate regulations to improve the condition of matters in that respect?
—Well, I think if I had the power I have spoken of to-day as in the hands of one person, a great deal might have been done in that way—in the way of improving the houses and making matters more respectable.
16797. Have there been any such regulations with the special view of improving the condition of the houses and their surroundings ?
—Yes, there have been such regulations as insisting upon having two doors to the houses, but one of these doors has been allowed to get into disuse,—in fact, closed up,—a door for the cattle and a door for the inmates, but that has not been continued.
16798. Do the cattle still in the great majority of cases live under the same roof with the inhabitants ?
—Yes, in the other extremity of the house. They are generally long houses, and the cattle live in one end.
16799. But in a great number of cases are the cattle not separated by any division from the human beings ?
—I think in most houses there is a division of stone or wood.
16800. If there was a separate door, I suppose there would be, from a sanitary point of view, no great objection to the cattle being under the same roof?
—Not if the drainage outside was in good order; but they have the part of the houses where the cattle are excavated in order to retain the manure, and it retains the oozing and liquid that should be removed.
16801. Are epidemic diseases more or less common than they were fifty years ago?
—I cannot say they are much more common, but when an epidemic does break out it spreads rapidly.
16802. I suppose the closeness of the houses to each other in a great measure adds to the danger ?
—Yes, from the organic products accumulating there.
16803. Are diseases of the chest more prevalent than they used to be?
—It was thought at one time that we were exempt from consumption. I have seen cases of it, and I think in nearly all of them it could be connected with the south in some way—parties who had gone south and worked hard in service there.
16804. Has there been an increase in that respect?
—Not much increase, but I think on the whole there are more cases now to be seen.
16805. As regards the children, are diseases common to children more or less prevalent than they were before?
—Well, I daresay diseases of the chest, such as catarrhal complaints, are more prevalent. It is singular that croup is prevalent in the Lewis but unknown in Harris. Harris is very hilly.
10806. Is Lewis less rainy or more so?
—No, I think they are pretty much of a muchness.
16807. Are the children better or worse clothed than they used to be fifty years ago ?
—Well, their clothing has not improved,—I mean the clothing manufactured at home, because the population having increased so much, and the number of sheep not being increased, the home clothing is not so easily kept up.
16808. I suppose many of the children are clothed with thin cloth bought in shops?
—Yes, there is a good deal of that—not sufficient protection from the weather.
16809. Is it common with them not to wear flannel, or do they generally wear it ?
—I do not think they generally wear flannel.
16810. Is that bad for their health ?
—If they have what they call plaiding, it does not matter so much, but they have introduced cotton shirting very much now.
16811. The Chairman.
—You mentioned in your statement something regarding the export of fuel; is there any such export ?
16812. For what purpose?
—I believe they prefer it in certain distilleries.
16813. I presume that trade never can assume any great proportions?
—It is possible it might, but the fuel is getting scarcer around Stornoway and some of the villages here.
16814. With regard to the waste lands, you think if money were advanced the crofters could utilise that money, so as to be able to pay interest upon the advances ? Would the improvement pay interest upon the capital expended ?
—I think it would.
16815. Have you observed the improvements at Shawbost—were they conducted in such a way that the crofters could afford to pay a fair interest on the cost ?
—They complain very much there that the land has been overpeopled at Shawbost, that they have been too much crowded, and that they were not able to have the stock that would help them to pay the rents. That is one of the villages which has not been sufficiently developed as a fishing station.
16816. With reference to the lands that were reclaimed there, do you think that, so far as the reclamation went, it was one which paid the outlay ?
—I think it must have paid the outlay.
16817. And similar reclamations elsewhere could be profitably made ?
—I think so.
16818. A question was put to you, but you did not give a very decided answer to it. Do you think that the crofter population could pay the same rent for land that the large farmers pay?
—Not at first. I say they could not perhaps pay it at first, but a graduated rent. When you plant a crofter in a new place, it will take two or three years before he gets a fair stock. I do not think he could be able to pay the same rent by any means at first, but I think in the course of time there would be no loss to proprietor.
16819. You mean that at first the crofter would have to incur considerable expense in building his house and improving his land?
16820. After the first seven years, let us say, do you think he could be in a position to pay the same rent which a large farmer pays?
—Well, the crofters are of that opinion themselves.
16821. You mentioned that it would be very desirable to have landingplaces and piers and shelter for boats about the island. How many of these places should there be ?
—There should be one on the west side. There is one now constructing at Ness and there should be one in Broad Bay.
16822. There should be two at all events besides the one at Ness?
16823. At whose cost should these be erected?
—Well, it is expected by the estate that part of the money which has been given out in distribution would be repaid gradually and used for that purpose, but I should hope they will be effectually supported by Government and the Fishery Board, as in the case of Ness.
16824. If advances were made for making piers, would there be any interest payable by the fishing population upon these ?
—That would depend upon the conditions upon which the money was given.
16825. Would the fishing population be able to pay any interest on these advances ?
—I do not know that they could at first.
16826. And you think that these piers would have to be erected either by the proprietor or by Government—that the advances would have to be made gratuitously?
—I think so.
16827. I do not quite understand how you propose to do away with the credit system on which the fishing is conducted. The curers now give advances to the people, because the people have no ready money, is that so?
16828. And the people become in consequence bound to fish for the curers ?
16829. How do you propose to get out of that system?
—My idea is that the fishing system should be conducted like any other. If the curers choose to do it for their own interest, good and well; but why should a
crew be started that has no claim upon the curer unless they have some provision themselves to start ?
16830. Would you make it illegal to advance money to a crew?
—I would not make it illegal. I believe in some instances it is impossible for the fishermen to start otherwise, but there are so many faults to be found with the system in the way of affecting commercial integrity, that I think it would be proper that it should be undermined somehow.
16831. I think there is a general opinion that the system is a bad system, but I should like to know how the system is to be changed?
—It might be changed by the fishermen having the fish paid for apart from any goods that might be obtained by them from the curers.
16832. But if the curers are under advances to the fishermen already, the curers will always have the pull upon those fishermen?
—Yes. It is very difficult to break up the system, because if the curers insisted upon Payment of arrears the fishermen are quite in their power. The fault was in commencing the thing, and it is very difficult to break it up, but if it is possible it is very desirable.