KENNETH M'LEOD, Crofter, Garabost (54)—examined.
16327. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Your statement is as follows :
—'Statement to be laid before the Royal Commission by the delegates of the Garabost crofters. When the brickwork commenced about thirty five years ago in our neighbourhood, the best part of our hill pasture was taken from us and attached to it. This was made into parks enclosed by turf dykes. These dykes we had to keep in repair till about two years ago, without receiving any wages for our labour. Paraffin oil manufacture was also for some time carried on in connection with this brickwork, and a stranger who came to superintend it got part of our pasture also; and our peat bunks were taken from us for the use of these works, and we had to cut them at a much greater distance from our houses, and sometimes the peats we cut in the latter place were carried away without our consent and without payment. One man, who cut some in the old place after we were told to give it up, had to pay a fine of £ 2 , and his rent was raised 10s., and he still pays this increase of rent which was imposed upwards of twenty years ago. If our cattle or horses entered the parks even in winter we had to pay pound money for them. The children who attended the cattle were often ill used. The new part of our township was once common pasture, and we got no reduction of rent when deprived of it, but instead of this, we had to pay 5d. once paid as road money for the almost useless park which remained. The road money is now paid by a tax of sixpence per pound of rental. The rent of the whole township now, including that of the parks and of the new part of the township, is nearly double of what it was forty years ago. Although the loss of life and property from want of proper harbour accommodation has been considerable, we got no help or encouragement from the estate for making a harbour ; and a quay which was made at Bayble by the stranger with the help of the fishermen, who contributed £ 1 per crew, was destroyed, the stones having been removed for making improvements connected with the estate. Supposing a man on the day of collecting the rents, from some unavoidable cause, failed to answer his name when called, no explanation whatever would exempt him from paying a fine of 1s. This applies only to the time of our present factor's predecessor. If any one dared to seek redress of these grievances, the uniform result was a threat to deprive him of his lands. When Kenneth M'Leod, one of the delegates, built a house on his father's croft twenty-five years ago, a fine of £ 5 was imposed, and on succeeding another crofter some time later, he had to pay £ 6 of arrears which were due by his predecessor.
The remedies we would propose are—
1. Larger holdings. There are several large sheep farms available for this.
2. Fair rents, fixed by arbitration.
3. Fixity of tenure, and compensation for improvements.
16328. How many tenants are in Garabost?
16329. Do you know how much rent they pay?
—Over £150, so far as I can make out.
16330. When was it raised last?
—Our being deprived of out-pasture was a rise of rent, because it was upon this pasture we were able to feed our stock.
16331. Who commenced this brickwork?
—Sir James Matheson, the proprietor.
16332. And the hill pasture was taken from you then?
16333. And the rent continued the same ?
—There was no abatement; on the contrary, this additional 5s. was placed upon us.
16334. What had the brickwork to do with it?
—The brickworks are fenced round, and there are four parks surrounding the brickwork, and these are rented out, and we got no reduction.
16335. Are these works still going on ?
16336. Were you obliged to keep these dykes in repair?
—Yes, we were keeping up that dyke.
16337. What had you to do with the dykes?
—We were so much afraid of the estate people, that we were afraid if we did not do what they liked in keeping up the dyke, we should be deprived of the small holding we had.
16338. Were you relieved of that two years ago ?
16339. Did you never get anything for all the trouble of keeping up the dykes during all the time ?
—Not a penny.
16340. Were these dykes of any use to you?
—They were very injurious to us. We could not get to the well without going over these dykes, and besides, the people on the other side would not allow us to
take the water.
16341. Were any of your people employed on these brickworks?
—Yes, some of us would be working in it, but there were regular workers at the brickwork, and they were keeping these enclosures as their own pasture ground.
16342. Was your peat bog entirely taken from you at the time for the use of these works ?
16343. How far was it from you then?
—We had to go a good bit to get any peat bank.
16344. You speak of a man being fined £2 for cutting peats in the old place ?
16345. And his rent was raised?
16346. How long since?
—Twenty years ago.
16347. Who was the factor?
16348. I suppose you have no fear of that being done to you again ?
—We are tired of that administration anyhow.
16349. Have they all got cows ?
16350. How many have you yourself?
16351. What is your rent ?
—Including taxes, it is £ 5 , 12s. Some of them only keep two cows, some one. We are deprived of pasture land, and cannot keep stock.
16352. How do you manage to keep these three cows?
—The three would not make one good cow.
16353. Are you mostly fishermen ?
—Yes, the young people.
16354. Is there any place in your township where a harbour could be made ?
16355. Would the same place do for you and Bayble?
—Yes. It is in Bayble that we used to keep our boats.
16356. You say that the stones of a quay that was made there were removed and destroyed for the purpose of being used in some works connected with the estate?
—Yes, there is no doubt of that.
16357. Who did it? Where were the stones put?
—Many can testify as to that. There was a steamer carrying away the stones from that quay all the way to Stornoway.
16358. Was that in Sir James Matheson's time ?
16359. Why did the people allow that to be done?
—We were so much depressed by the hard times we had and the administration we were under—we were so thoroughly accustomed to the word 'you will be deprived of your land.
16360. Do you think, if you had gone and told Sir James Matheson himself, he would have allowed such a thing to be done as destroying your pier?
—We cannot telL
16361. You did not try?
—No, we never did.
16362. Was the quay really of any use ?
—Yes, it was the quay where the boats used to throw out their herring. Many a score of crans of herring did I myself put ashore there.
16363. Did the people themselves erect the quay?
—It was Mr Methven that built the quay, but in order to recoup himself for his expense, he levied £1 upon every boat that was in Bayble,—£1 for
once,—and that was an excellent bargain for them.
16364. And were the stones of that quay removed altogether?
—The stones were not entirely taken away ; the quay was rendered perfectly useless, for when once the sea was able to make a breach in on it, by the stones being removed, it was of no further use. (see Appendix A. XL)
16365. Did you build a house on your father's croft?
16366. Had you any fine to pay for that liberty?
—I paid £ 5 of a fine.
16367. What was that for?
—When I built the house there was only my father and mother and one brother and a little sister. After building the house. I offered the factor to pull it down again if he would not impose this fine upon me, but he told me that, supposing I should pull it down, I should have to pay a fine of £4—the difference being only £ 1 . I considered it would be a very poor house indeed that was not worth that.
16368. Were you getting a share of your father's croft when you had this house ?
—I had a third portion of the croft, and I was paying the rent along with my father ever since I was seventeen years of age, and helping the family.
16369. Did you build the house at your own expense ?
16370. Do you remember what it cost you?
—I cannot tell exactly what the first house cost me, but I have an idea what my present house cost.
16371. How much was that?
16372. Is it a very good house ?
—It is a slated house.
16373. Was the building of your former house, for which you were fined £5. against the regulations of the estate ?
—Probably it was at the time against the regulations of the estate; but then I offered to pull the house down, and that would not relieve me of my fine, they were so keen for it.
16374. Who was the factor at the time?
16375. Have you a lease of your own present croft?
—No. It has certainly had to do with the character of the buildings on the estates, the little encouragement we got in these matters, and the use of that
phrase I stated before—of casting up to them that they would be deprived of their land.
16376. What induced you to build such an expensive house?
—To provide a comfortable dwelling for myself and my family.
16377. But did you get no assurance of compensation for the value of the house ?
16378. Have you any such assurance now?
—No; I believe that the want of such assurance prevents men from improving their dwellings in this place.
16379. Had you also to pay £6 of arrears for another man into whose croft you came ?
16380. Was he any relation, of yours ?
—No. The man who was in arrears was no relation of mine. An uncle of mine assumed this croft as joint tenant with him, and both fell into arrears, and then I had to pay his £6 of arrears before I got possession. The man fell in arrears, but there were no arrears against my uncle.
16381. You say the people are discouraged by the want of assurance of compensation; how was it that you had so much courage as to dispense with the assurance?
—I had some spirit to undertake the matter, but for many a long day I was looking upon it as a foolish proceeding.
16382. Have you ever repented of building that big house?
—Yes, Ihave;—when we were deprived of that back pasture land and the other matters I have mentioned.
16383. Has that been done since you got your house ?
—Not altogether. Some of it was done before I built my house. Things were not so high then as they have been since I built the house.
16381. The Chairman.
—It has been represented to me that the quay which you said was destroyed for the use of the estate was broken by storms, and the stones were scattered upon the shore, before they were touched. Was that so ?
—That is not the case. The stones were removed first, and it was the breach caused by the removal of these stones that gave the sea the advantage over it.
16385. It is also stated that the quay was built by Sir James Matheson, and not by Mr Methven at all ?
—Of one thing I am certain, that £ 1 was laid upon every one to meet the expense of the quay, and that was paid to Mr Methven, fish-curer. We as Highlanders and Islesmen don't distrust and dislike one another at all, although we are so much crowded in upon each other. Our grievance is, that we were deprived of the lands, and that these have been given away to tacksmen, deer, and sheep. There was a dyke fence that was built between Aignish and our township, and we paid for the building of that dyke—the half of it—the tacksman paid the other half. Now, his sheep come to us when our own cattle are on the moorland pasture, and when any of ours will go to him, whether sheep or cattle or horses, he charges money for them. We cannot charge him in return ; we are so depressed that the fear of the estate management and the like of that has taken the courage out of us.