Stornoway, Lewis, 8 June 1883 - Alexander Mackenzie

ALEXANDER MACKENZIE, Crofter, Branahine (64)—examined.

16210. The Chairman.
—How many families are there at Branahine?
—There are twenty-four families paying rent, and there are about three who don't pay rent.

16211. Do you represent the tenants, or both the tenants and cottars?
—I represent both.

16212. How many were present when you were elected?
—There were considerably more than the half present.

16213. And you and Donald Morrison were freely elected?

16214. You produce a paper. Was that prepared before that meeting at which you were elected ?
—It was prepared after I was elected.

16215. Did you write it yourself ?

16216. Was it dictated ?
—Yes, we dictated it. The whole township was present when it was being written
—Branahine, May 29, 1883. To the Royal Commissioners of Inquiry of the Grievances of the Highlands and Islands. Honoured Gentlemen—Having this opportunity of stating our grievances, we the undersigned do hereby state some of them briefly as follows :
—1st, Previous to Sir James Matheson obtaining the island of Lewis, Branahine consisted of fifteen crofters, paying £60 rent, now it consists of twenty-five crofters, with an aditional rental of £16. 2nd, all the common pasturage which our ancestors had was taken from us with very little exception, and given to large farms; also the sea-weeds which were annexed to our crofts was taken from us and given to Melbost farm, which was not in its immediate vicinity. Last of all, the township of Melbost was thrust on the little pasturage that was left us with their cattle, so that we have to pay for the grazing of our cattle from the one end of the year to the other, on the very ground which we ourselves had less than forty years ago, but now in the possession of strangers, so that those that were rearing a stock of six milch cows with three or four of smaller animals cannot rear one single cow without buying her food. If a large amount of money were expended on this island as an excuse of raising our rents, it was more to our ruin than for our improvement, for we challenge anyone who can prove that one single shilling was spent in improving our crofts or houses.

16217. When were the additional crofters thrown upon you?
—From fifteen to twenty years ago.

16218. You are referring to the township of Branahine ?
— Yes.

16219. Where did the additional ten crofters now at Branahinc come from ?
—The township in the parish next to us called Holm was cleared, and the people thrown in upon us.

16220. Were you in possession of a croft at that time ?

16221. Have you got that land still, or did you lose part of it ?
—I have it yet. I lost nothing of my croft strictly so called, but these people were thrown in upon us at the upper portion of our township, and the new lots were lotted out to them there, so that our hill pasture was reduced in that way.

16222. Was any of the land on the new lots improved or did the tenants improve it themselves ?
—A little of the land was improved for them by the proprietor.

16223. Have they improved more themselves since then?
—Yes, much more.

16224. Do you know at what rent they were settled there?
—I could not tell, but I believe each pays about £ 4 to-day.

16225. Has their rent been raised since they entered upon these lots?
—Yes, for additional pasture land they got,

16226. But their rent has not been raised in consequence of their own improvements ?
—I believe not.

16227. The £16 additional of which you speak applies, I suppose, to those crofters who had land improved for them ?
—No, this additional £16 was added to the original crofts, not to these others that were sent in at all. This portion of ground at the back of our crofts was taken from us, and no abatement was made in consequence of that, and the £16 additional was added on all the same.

16228. What is the rent of the whole twenty-four to-day?
—I cannot tell accurately,

16229. Were the present inhabitants of Melbost brought to Melbost of late years ?
—No, there have always been people in Melbost. When Melbost people lost their land, they were added to our township, and they have themselves no portion of the out pasture which originally belonged to the township—nothing except what is within the ring fence.

16230. Then at present the Branahine pasture is common to the Branahine people and the Melbost people ?

16231. Do the Melbost people pay additional rent for this pasture they got from the Branahine people ?
—There was no separate arrangement with regard to rent. They pay the rent they paid before when they had their own pasture land.

16232. What rent do you yourself pay?
—I got fresh land. It was very rough, and I took it all in myself. I trenched and drained it, and I pay about 21s. of bare rent for it.

16233. How long is it since you got this piece of ground?
—Over twenty years.

16234. Where were you before then ?
—Always in the township. My father and grandfather were there before me.

16235. Who has the land your father and grandfather had before you ?
—A brother of mine.

16236. Then this increase from sixteen to twenty-five is not entirely by parties brought in ; it is partly by the natural increase of the population?
—Yes, some is due to the increase of the place.

16237. Do you know how much is due to each cause?
—I could not tell at the moment.

16238. How much land have you got ?
—About four acres of improved land.

16239 . What stock do you keep?
—One cow and one sheep. I also keep a horse; but my rent does not allow me to keep a horse, and I arrange with another man for its keep.

16240. What does the keep of the horse cost?
—Well, the horse is grazed by a son-in-law of my own, and that makes it cheaper.

16241. Do you plough the croft with the horse, or let it out for hire ?
—Yes, I plough my croft with it, and I hire the horse out too.

16242. Have you any promise of compensation for the land you improved ?
—I have no promise.

16243. Have you any promise of being allowed to hold it for any length of time ?
—Nothing of the kind. We are told we have no claim upon anything beyond the bounds of arable ground. Supposing we make any complaint with regard to the out hill pasture, we are told that we have no cause of complaint with regard to it—that our rights are limited by arable ground.

16244. By ' we ' you mean those who got hill to improve?
—I mean the whole of the crofters in the place.

16245. Mr Cameron.
—What do you and those whom you represent wish should be done now to remedy the state of matters ?
—More pasture ground, and relief from the heavy pressure of the burdens of rent and taxation that are laid upon us.

16246. Do you think your rent of £ 1 , 1s. is high for the amount of ground you have got and the cow and sheep which you keep ?
—No, I would not consider it too high if it had other necessaries attached to it.

16247. You mean more pasture, I suppose ?
—Yes, more pasture.

16248. But if you had more pasture would you expect to pay more rent or would you expect the pasture in addition to what you have all for the guinea ?
—That piece of pasture ground at the back of our crofts which was taken from us we still pay a rent for, in respect that there was no abatement made when we were deprived of it. Some of it was restored to us.

16249. But you say you consider your rent would not be high if you had other advantages added to it. If you had other advantages, would you expect to get it for the same rent, or would you be prepared to pay additional for it?
—We were deprived of pasture, and there was no abatement of rent.

16250. I understand you think you ought to have the same holding with additional pasture for the same rent ?
—It would be easier for me to pay additional rent if I had some more pasture.

16251. Where is this land to be got, and who holds the additional pasture which you wish to get?
—The old moorland pastures of the township are now attached to the tack of Upper Holm.

16252. Do you know whether that tacksman has a long lease or not?
—I cannot telL

16253. Suppose the proprietor found that at the expiry of this lease more land could be added to the crofts— do you think the crofters could stock the land, or do you agree with the statement made by other delegates, that the Government should assist the crofters to stock the land ?
—I think we will require Government assistance, as previous delegates said.

16254. It is stated here that in the improvements that were executed by the proprietor not one shilling was spent in improving your crofts or houses. I understand that refers to tho old crofts, but that some improvements were made on the new crofts ?
—These additional crofts that were cut out of the back portion of their crofts, and upon which some money was expended, are called by a separate name. It is a distinct township now, and so the statement is true that not one penny Was expended on our township.

16255. But money was spent upon crofters in a different locality ?
—Yes, the proprietor expended money in improving crofts at Holm, but these don't belong to our parish. Holm is in the parish of Stornoway.

16256. Were the people who were employed in making these improvements natives of the place ?
—They were Harris men, the greater portion of them. Some belonged to the place.

16257. Was there much other work going on at that time in the district ?
—Yes, there was a good deal. It was at the time people were removed from Harris and they came over upon the Lewis side of the march in order to provide for their families. It was the neighbourhood  of Stornoway they came to.

16258. I suppose the people prefer getting work at home to having to go south to find it ?
—Very much.

16259. Have the crofters had their attention directed to the new estate regulations with respect to the improvement of houses
—Yes, all the people have seen the leases.

16260. Have the people in your township taken advantage of these regulations to improve their houses ?
—Yes, there are some that have taken advantage to some extent of these regulations, but we have no great encouragement in doing so when we have no security against removal. We had not even a lease of the place.

16261. Don't the regulations themselves give that very security you ask for ?
—I have not seen that any one among us has got it yet.

16262. Have you asked for it?
—I cannot say that we did.

16263. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the name of the tenant of Holm ?
—Mr Helme.

16264. Is Holm a good farm?
—Yes, it is a good farm.

16265. Were any improvements made upon that farm by the proprietor?
—Yes, a good deal.

16266. What was the nature of them?
—Fences were set up, parks were made, and a good deal of it was trenched.

16267. Is all the land that was one under cutlivation by crofters cultivated on that farm ?
—Yes, the whole of it was cultivated, as far as I can make out, and more.

16268. Do you know how many pairs of horses he keeps ?
—There are two pairs always.

16269. Do you know how many families reside upon that farm ?
—I am not aware there is more than one family—the grieve's family. The rest are unmarried people who work the farm.

16270. Has he got any cottars dependent upon him other than those who are necessary to work the farm ?

16271. Are there sheep upon this farm of Holm ?

16272. A good lot?
—They vary. The tenant has two or three other tacks, so that he can change the stock.

16273. In this island ?
— He has other two upon this estate.

16274. Where are these ?
—Galston and Upper Barvas.

16275. Was it for the benefit of the people that were once upon this farm of Holm that they were removed to other places ?
—They were not willing to go. They were sent away against their will, and the lands they had were added to the tack upon each side of them.

16276. Have the people been falling off ever since in their circumstances—those that were so removed?
—They are not better off now than they were then.

16277. Who has got the farm of Melbost now?
—Mrs Houston.

16278. Were there people removed from that farm?
—No, but all the out pasture was taken from them.

16279. Was that of considerable consequence to them ?
—Yes, it was of very great consequence to them. The loss of it was of great injury to them.

16280. Was the position of your father much better than your own ?
—Yes, he was well off. He lacked nothing that was necessary for a man's support.

16281. Have you yourself been industrious all your days, endeavouring to make the best of it ?

16282. And yet you are a poor man?
—Yes. My position is nothing compared with what my father's was.

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