DONALD SMITH, Fish-Curer (49)—examined.
17075. The Chairman.
—You come as a representative of the town of Stornoway ?
17076. Have you any statement to make?
—Yes; I intend to refer to the harbours around the island, but as the crofters and fishers are so much connected, I am obliged to refer a little to the crofters. The matter I mean chiefly to speak of very briefly is harbour accommodation in connection with our fisheries. Before entering upon the subject, permit me to refer shortly to the condition of our crofter population. There were so many witnesses already examined and evidence advanced, that it would appear superfluous in me referring to the subject. The old proverb, however, may stand true here : ' In the multitude of counsel, there is wisdom.' Within the present century, the whole of the island, with the exception of a few small farms, was in possession of the crofters. What is the case now ? In the parish of Uig alone the following townships have been cleared, and are at present either sheep runs or deer forests, viz., Ardvig, Ardushor, Mulista, Mangersta, Carninish, Adruvil, Tymesgarry, Bullameille, Pabbay, Reiff, Strone, Scaliscrow, Earshade, Leordel, Vaiadhmhor, Cnockmagem, Kanholwick, Bosta, Croir. I am bound to say the above townships, with their moors, would accommodate and support comfortably as many crofters as there are at present paying rent in the parish. In the parish of Lochs there is the farm of Park, large enough to support with comfort from 200 to 300 crofters. Again, we have the Garanahine clearance, Dallbeg, Dallmore, and the two Galstons in the parish of Ness, North Tolsta, Gress, and Egnis. These townships, I believe, would be sufficient to accommodate a good many tacksmen. What are the facts of the case ? As the population increased, the lands as it were diminished,—township after township cleared,—the poor people obliged either to emigrate to the colonies, or be scattered over townships left. How does the case stand at present? The 26,000 human beings possess far less land than the original population had sixty or eighty years ago, and that only of the worst. The poverty of our crofter population is great. It is only those that come in contact, and do business with them, that know it. Take, for example, any of our large towns and cities, and apply the principle of restricting and diminishing the area of ground as the population increases, you would be inclined to say that any person propounding such theory was only fit for the asylum. This is the same law that was applied to our crofter population ; the more they increased the less land they would get. I am not aware that there is anything of communism amongst our islanders. They are all prepared to pay full value for the land if they only get it. Surely it is not too much to expect from proprietors, when the lease of the farm is out, to put it into the market. Give the chance to the crofters to offer for it, and that they should get the preference over strangers, so long as they paid it. I am aware that proprietors dread pauperism. What causes pauperism ? Just overcrowding. Give the land of which there is sufficient to the surplus population, and I believe you can do away with the Poor Law Act. There are clergymen in our island who profess to be in good sympathy with the people; those gentlemen own very large glebes, one acre of which is worth half a dozen of the land the tenants possess. They strongly advocate to give more land to the poor crofters, but will not give them a foot of their own. They prefer either farming it themselves, or let it for grazing purposes to some of the large farmers. Their professed sympathy will fall flat, and go for nothing, until they first learn that charity begins at home. If they cannot let the glebes for crofts, and I don't see why they shouldn't, let them give them to the crofters for grazing purposes at fair rents; then will we give them full credit for sympathy. I will now very briefly advert to the harbour question. Owing to the smallness of the crofts, and the great number that have no crofts, our crofter population are obliged to prosecute the fishing, which they do under very great disadvantages, often resulting in great loss of life and property. Once you leave the harbour of Stornoway round the Butt of Lewis, you will meet with no harbour to take refuge in until you come to Loch Roag,—all open bays and small creeks that can give no shelter. It is within this district that the whole of our herring fishing and ling and cod fishing is prosecuted. Hence the necessity of having a few small harbours scattered over the district, to which boats might run for shelter. For want of harbours to protect property and life, the fishermen are obliged to have only small open boats that can be hauled daily as the case requires. These boats are so small that they can only go to sea in fine weather. Consequently the fishing is not, and cannot be, efficiently prosecuted. If small harbours and piers would be built where they are urgently required, it would encourage fishermen to get larger boats, with which they could prosecute the fishing with confidence both summer and winter, as they do in the east coast of Scotland. If we get our mail communication with StromeBayble, Portnaguirin, Gress, Shawbost, Valtos, and Crowlistar. In all these places stones are abundant. I believe Portnaguirin, Gress, and Shawbost would be most expensive, say from £4000 to £5000 for each. The other harbours would not take up the half of this amount. If these harbours were built, it would give a great stimulus to the fishing, and thus mitigate to a great extent the often recurring distress amongst our fishing and crofter population.
17077. How many fishermen, with such an expenditure as you have mentioned, would probably fish from each station ?
—I believe that the fishing would increase immensely, provided they had shelter from the weather, but at present they cannot venture out except just with small boats. A number of the best fishermen do not attempt it, because it will not pay them.
17078. How many would there be to start with?
—I should say that at Bayble (if that pier were built) they would very likely start a number of townships which are adjacent.
17079. Twenty crews ?
—More ; thirty or forty.
17080. And Portnaguirin ?
—Fully more. All the Garabost district, and I have no doubt the townships of Knockaird and Sheader would congregate to Portnaguirin.
17081. And at Gress?
—There would be a large number there.
17082. Thirty boats ?
—More; I should say, if Gress harbour were good, there would be at least fifty boats.
17083. And Shawbost ?
—Shawbost, so far as the fishing is concerned, is almost a blank for want of a harbour. There is a large population all along the coast about Shawbost
17084. Do you think forty boats could start from there?
—I would expect about thirty boats.
17085. Do you think £5000 would provide shelter at Shawbost?
—I think it would.
17086. Then how many boats would there be from Valtos ? It seems to me that that is a natural harbour, Valtos and Crowlista?
—There is an island, but it is open at both sides.
17087. What they want is a landing place for their fish?
—Yes, and that is what I mean,—a pier.
17088. And for Bayble?
17089. Mr Cameron.
—How would they get their fish to Stornoway?
—They could not be easily got from Valtos, but at Carloway the distance is only twenty miles. We take fish forty miles to the terminus. We had a number of boats fishing at Cape Wrath, and we carried fresh turbot forty miles to Lairg, when the distance from Carloway to Stornoway would be only twenty to twenty-two miles.
17090. The Chairman.
—How many boats do you think there would be at Valtos ?
17091. And at Crowlista ?
—About half a dozen.
17092. Then altogether there are about 180 boats that would fish from these places?
17093. How many of these would be new boats?
—A great number; at Bayble I don't suppose there are more than fifteen boats—small boats.
17094. Would one half of these 180 be new?
—Well, on this side, such as at Portnaguirin and Gress, I believe they would not haul their big boats. Whenever the herring fishing was over, they would work their boats as on the east coast, provided they had harbour accommodation, but at present they cannot risk that.
17095. Well, as to those who want new boats, how would they get them ?
—I suppose there is no way except for those who have money in the bank, or for the fish-curer to advance them.
17096. It is common for them to get boats from the fish-curers?
—Quite; those who are not able to provide themselves with boats.
17097. What is the cost of a boat?
—The boats we use on the Loch Roag side, with outfit, cost about £160.
17098. Are they able to pay that back and earn a living ?
—No ; sometimes they never pay it back. Some do. I have given a boat to a crew at Loch Roag, and they paid it back in two years.
17099. What are your terms on these advances?
—So much to be paid up every year.
17100. Are they bound to fish for you till it is paid ?
17101. Do you make them other advances, such as meal, in the interval?
17102. There have been complaints about the system of these advances. You do not advance them money?
—We advance them money in advancing boats.
17103. And if they want food, you advance them food?
17104. And you cost your accounts with them at the end of the season, at Lammas or Martinmas ?
17105. Do they know what price they are to get for their fish beforehand, or the price of the meal ?
—Yes ; we tell them before they get any article out of our store. The price is fixed before they get it.
17106. Is that customary among the curers?
—I believe it is.
17107. We had the contrary fact stated by the men themselves ?
—There may be some seasons when they may not know the price of the fish, when it is not contracted for at the beginning; but so far as goods is concerned, they know the prices right off. As to the fish, there are very few seasons when the price is not fixed before they go to sea.
17108. Would it not be equally suitable to advance the money and let them buy meal wherever they found it cheapest?
—It would be better if we could manage not to advance them at all. If there was any philanthropic society got up to advance them boats and gear, we would be very glad to pay them in cash.
17109. Would it not give rise to fewer misgivings if you made your advances in cash and not in kind ?
—We do that in great measure. We advance them a good deal of cash at the beginning. Sometimes with a crew of six men we advance them £20, besides goods. It is a mistake when they say they do not get money in advance. There is scarcely a crew in a Lewis boat to whom we do not advance money months before they take a fish out of the sea, apart from meal or anything.
17110. How many crews have you fishing for yourself at one time?
—A great number.
17111. Have you a hundred crews fishing?
—I suppose there will be eighty crews.
17112. What percentage of these are clear, or have been usually clear, at the end of the season during the last half dozen years ?
—The last three or four seasons have been rather backward, and there were very few of the boats clear. I don't think we have had many clear since 1880, but in 1880 a great many were clear both in the ling and in the herring fisheries.
17113. Sometimes a good season comes and enables them to clear off?
17114. How do you propose that money should be obtained to build these piers and harbours ?
—I do not see any way of it except by a Government grant.
17115. A full grant ?
17116. No interest payable?
—I do not see how they could pay interest.
17117. Do you know any other instances in Scotland where such grants have been given ?
—Yes, grants have been given to Wick.
17118. Without any payment of interest ?
—Well, it is given, I suppose, on the understanding that interest should be paid, but I understand it has been cancelled.
17119. You would accept the money whether it was or was not to be paid ?
—I would accept it without that. The people are so poor that I know in very great measure it would mitigate the present distress among the fishing population.
17120. Would it enable the fishermen to do with those small crofts?
—In a great measure it would; at any rate it would give us better fishermen. We have a number of good seamen on our island.
17121. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you supply the fishermen with anything but meal ?
17122. What other things ?
—Lines and hooks.
17123. But do you supply them with anything in the nature of provisions?
—Principally meal; sometimes groceries, but not much. So far as provisions are concerned, it is almost altogether meal.
17124. Some of the delegates we saw here who were in favour of having harbours stated they were willing to pay a small rent for the use of them annually. Could they not afford, from the additional facilities given to them, to pay a small sum per annum ?
—I am not very sure ; but after a time, if the fishing was really developed, it might come to that. At present it does not look very like it,
17125. But supposing they could go out twice as often as they do now and come in oftener, could they not afford to give something ?
17126. If they could do it they would be very willing?
—Yes, I am satisfied of that.
17127. Professor Mackinnon.
—How do you expect the fishing to be developed by those quays?
—They would enable the fishermen to have larger boats.
17128. At present they require to haul up the boats every night ?
17129. And they cannot have a boat which they cannot haul up?
—They cannot, especially on the east side.
17130. Then they would prefer a harbour they could enter at all states of the tide ?
—Yes, and in which their boats would be safe afloat.
17131. At present they complain that they cannot go in and out often when they could work out on the sea, in the small boats they have, but you would enable them to work out on the sea on days when they cannot work just now by having bigger boats ?
17132. So the fishing would be improved in a variety of ways ?
17133. The ling and cod fishermen at the north end of the island complain very much that they are injured by the herring fishermen dragging their buoys ?
—I do not know whether I should say there is fault on both sides, but there are many cases in which neither party can help themselves. I have been examining into these cases over and over again, and really I could not make anything of it except that it was a necessity.
17134. Do you think that if they got these boats you talk of they could perhaps manage either to take separate strips of the ocean for the two kinds of fishing, or that the cod and ling fisheries should stop at the herring season and take herrings ?
—I do not think so. I think it is almost impossible to avoid accidents of this kind. There is one thing to be said in favour of the bigger boats. Perhaps the bigger boats could go outside the herring boats, and there is a chance of that.
17135. But you think that even with the improved boats a cod and ling man should keep to cod and ling ?
—Yes, I think so. We have a different class at cod and ling—quite different from herring.
17136. How many months in the year can they fish cod and ling with success ?
—They generally prepare in November and December, and continue till July if they have a favourable winter. Of course, our coast is very wild in winter.
17137. I suppose the herring fishing is far more productive during its short existence, than the cod and ling fishing is on the average ?
—I cannot say. Some years there is a failure of the herring, just as there is of the other fishing.
17138. Do you think that with improved boats they would make a fair price from year to year?
—I believe there would be a larger price.
17139. And they could work a little even in winter?
—Yes, there is no doubt about it.
17140. Mr Cameron.
—Do you give any bonus to the boats whether they catch anything or not ?
17141. How much ?
—From £ 10 to £20.
17142. We heard that was the custom at Barra?
—I am referring to the Barra fishing; they get £50, and at Stornoway they get £35.
17143. They get that whether successful or not ?
17144. Have you, in reference to your estimated cost for these harbours given merely your own idea ?
—Yes, merely a rough estimate.
17145. You have had no assistance in estimating the cost ?
17146. Has your attention been drawn to a new harbour which is being constructed at Ness ?
17147. Do you think it a successful experiment?
—I think it will be a great benefit; I see no reason why it should not succeed.
17148. Do you think it large enough for the purpose ?
—I think it is sufficient for the district, which is the object for which it is being put up.
17149. Have you seen the plan of it?
—I have not seen the plan, but I know the spot.
17150. Do you think it will contain a sufficient number of boats for the district ?
—I believe it will.
17151. Some of those harbours you have alluded to in other parts of Scotland have been often damaged by storms, have they not ?
17152. Would these places you mentioned be very liable to be damaged by storms ?
—The two places most exposed are Portnaguirin and Shawbost.
17153. You do not wish to have harbours erected on anything like the scale of Wick harbour ?
—No. There is another matter about our Stornoway harbour. We have been complaining that we were not very favourably treated by the Loan Commissioners. They are giving the money on interest to other harbours at 3½ or 3¼ per cent, and we have applied but without success, because they ask for 5 per cent, so we are obliged to go to companies from whom we have got £10,000 at 4½ per cent. On the old harbour we are paying 5 per cent, for what is unpaid of the original loan; and I believe we would need a further loan to remove the curing stations on the south beach, which should not be there, and to connect the island with the street that runs along the shore. If that was connected, the curing stations on the south beach could be removed there. If the Harbour Commissioners of Stornoway could get from £6000 to £10,000 at a cheap rate of interest, it would be a great boon to the town, and would give great facilities to boats in landing their fish. At present there are only a few boats that come to our wharves to land fish. They are obliged to come to anchor in the harbour, and employ small boats at a cost to the fishermen of £600 or £700. They have to pay £ 2 or £ 3 each boat per season for landing their fish, whereas if we had this additional breakwater, that would extend from the island to Newtown, all the fishermen could land their fish there, and save a good deal of money, as well as remove these from the south beach. We had no less than three serious accidents to children, who were run over during the last fortnight, from the want of accommodation for the traffic, and we do not see any way to get rid of it unless we can secure some place for the stations.
17154. That would add to the harbour dues?
—Yes, but still I think the increase of traffic would pay it. The increase is very considerable.
17155. The Chairman.
—Are you paying your interest here ?
—Yes, and reducing the principal.