Stornoway, Lewis, 8 June 1883 - Roderick Mackenzie

RODERICK MACKENZIE, Crofter, Nether Coll (75)—examined.

16022. The Chairman.
—This is the statement you have submitted to the Commission:
Statements by Roderick M'Kenzie, crofter, and Malcolm M'Leod, crofter and mason, both of the township of Coll, to be submitted to the Commission on behalf of the crofters of said town. Fifty years ago the township of Coll was inhabited by twenty-two crofters, keeping from three to five milk cows, with several young beasts all in good condition, and from twelve to forty sheep. Before Sir James Matheson bought the estate four crofters were put in upon our township, and when the township of Garryghuirm was cleared other four were put in upon Coll, bringing the number of crofters in Coll up to thirty (see Appendix A. XL). At the same time a portion of the arable land belonging to the township was taken from the people, and given to the tacksmen for whom the people were put out of Garryghuirm, thus reducing the arable land of the people, while the inhabitants of the township are considerably increased. About thirty-three years ago the place was relotted out and made into forty-seven crofts, the rent of which was £120; since then twenty crofters have been put in upon the township, every one of them paying rent over and above the £120, at which the township was rented when it was relotted. So that we now stand thus—
1st, the township is made less by taking some of our arable land and adding it to the neighbouring tack;
2nd, putting people in upon us in addition to the natural growth of the population, until now we have three families to the one we originally had;
3rd, the rent being increased gives the privilege of increasing the stock, until people and cattle are starved alike, increasing taxes and every other source of poverty and misery.
The boundary dyke between us and one tacksman was built by contract, for which every head of family in Coll had to pay 10s. Still we have to keep it up as often as any part of it falls down; yet if any of our sheep or cattle go over it, they are pounded and paid for before we get them out. We are so much pressed by tacksmen on both sides, and behind by sportsmen and their gamekeepers, that we are not allowed to walk without the fear of being taken up as trespassers, even upon the hill pasture for which we pay rent. There are twenty-eight crofters in the township of Coll, having only one starved cow each, when the tack on the one hand of us would keep one hundred families in comfort, and the one on the other side eighty. Further, we beg to state to the Commission that in one case we know of an old man who fell into arrears of rent, and could not pay, a young man who was willing to take land would not get the old man's lot until he got security that he would pay the old man's debt, for which he paid £13, which he only managed by selling the two cows he had. In Coll just now there are ten married men and twenty-six single men, who would take land to-morrow if they got the chance. Suggested remedies for the foregoing grievances—
1st Increased holdings, with sufficient moorland and hill pasture to enable us to rear stock to pay our rent.
2nd Revaluation of land by competent parties who know the locality, and security of tenure so long as the rent is paid.
3rd, Compensation for unexhausted improvements.
4th, That tenants have a full and free access to all moorlands and hill pasture connected with their township, and have a right to pluck heather and cut rushes for thatching houses or any purpose of that nature without the fear of gamekeeper or ground officer.

16023. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do you remember when the first addition was made to the number of crofters at Coll ?

16024. Fifty years ago there were twenty-two. When was the first addition ?
—As I first remember fifty years ago there were two lots in the town.

16025. But when was the first increase in the number of lots?
—Fortythree years ago.

16026. How many were added to their number then?
—Ten families were put in upon us about forty-three years ago from the outside.

16027. Where were these taken from?
—From Garryghuirm, which was cleared, and another township. Out of that place four families were sent in upon us, and these have now become six families.

16028. What direction is Garyghuirin from Coll ?

16029. What was done with the land from which these people were brought?
—It is under sheep occupied by the tacksman who marches with us.

16030. What is the name of the tack ?
—Upper Coll.

16031. How much arable land was taken from them and added to that tack ?
—Perhaps about £8 worth, and there was no abatement made in the rent.

16032. The place was re-lotted about thirty-three years ago and made into forty-seven crofts. Who was factor at that time ?
—Mr Scobie was factor at that time. He only occupied that office for three years.

16033. The rent then was £120. How much was the rent fifty years ago ?
—It appears that it is Mr Munro Mackenzie that lotted the town. He succeeded Mr Scobie, and it was he who fixed the rental at £120.

16034. What was it before that?
—The previous rental was the same.

16035. What was the rent fifty years ago?
—I cannot remember. I think it was the same amount.

16036. When the place was re-lotted and made into forty-seven crofts, where did the people belong to, to whom these new crofts were given ?
—They belonged to the place.

16037. None were brought from any other place, were they?
—Not since Sir James came.

16038. The rent being increased gives the privilege of increasing the stock. What is the meaning of that? Does it mean that everybody may keep as much stock as he likes ?
—They cannot keep more stock.

16039. What stock do you keep yourself?
—Two cows and a year-old.

16040. No more?
—Four head of sheep; no horse.

16041. Have any of the crofters more cows than that?
—There are four that have larger stock than I had; but there are twenty-eight in the place who have only one cow, and a stirk perhaps as well.

16042. What rent do you pay ?
—£2, 9s. That rent was only £2, 7s. when the rents were settled by the factor upon information supplied by myself. There was an odd 6d. that has to be added to certain of the crofts—in order to make the proper subdivision of the £120, which was the rent of the whole township. But the factor said there would be
no 6d., that it would require to be a full shilling—and this shilhng, along with the shilling for hen money, has made the rent £2, 9s.

16043. How long have you been living in Coll?
—Fifty-three years.

16044. What rent were you paying first ?
—The same rent.

16045. Had you more cows then than you have now ?

16046. How many had you?
—Five head of cattle.

16047. And more sheep?
—We had no sheep to speak of. There is no sheep pasture.

16048. Did you grow more corn and potatoes then than you do now ?
—Yes, at that time, but not since our lots were reduced.

16049. How long do your own corn and potatoes keep your families alive in an ordinary year ?
—According to the seasons. But eight bolls of barley-meal was the largest amount that ever I made in one single year, sometimes four or five, sometimes six, and about one and a half bolls of oatmeal.

16050. How long would that last you ?
—Our own crofts used to tide us over the winter and sometimes longer.

16051. How long would the potatoes last in a single year?
—In a very good year we might have fifty barrels of potatoes, and these would last till spring. Many years we might not have twenty barrels.

16052. How many bolls of corn of your own had you last year, and how many barrels of potatoes?
—I had no potatoes at all. I could scarcely say that the potatoes grew at all last season, but I managed to save two bolls of barley from the storm, and that was all my crop.

16053. Then, in former times, did you require to buy meal after spring to keep your families ?
—You know that since Sir James Matheson got the property and since the potato disease, things have been very hard. I would have to buy some years fourteen, twelve, or ten bolls of meal, to support my own family, in addition to the crop.

16054. How much have you had to buy since last autumn?
—I have bought already thirteen bolls of meal.

16055. How many more will you need before next autumn?
—I cannot tell. It must be a great deal, if it can only be had.

16056. What else have you to live upon besides meal?
—Sugar. We have neither butter nor flesh. We neither kill cow nor sheep.

16057. Is that the general condition of the people at Coll?
—The greater portion of them. How can they be otherwise when their single cow does not give milk? They cannot make 2 lbs. of butter in the year.

16058. Have they any work at home in the island of Lewis?
—No, there is nothing of that kind now; but as long as Sir James, worthy man, lived, there was work going that kept some people employed.

16059. How far are you from the sea at Coll?
—No distance at all.

16060. Are many of your people engaged in fishing?
—Yes, the young people.

16061. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You say in this paper that this township is hemmed in by tacks and tacksmen. Will you mention the names ?
—Upper Coll.

16062. What is the name of the tenant ?
—Mr Hunter. Roderick

16063. Which is the other?
—It is another township occupied by crofters that marches with us on the other side.

16064. But you say 'we are so much pressed by tacksmen on both sides.' Is that correct ?
—The other side is occupied by a crofting township like ourselves. We differ sometimes.

16065. What is the meaning of this stated in the paper that they are not allowed to work without the fear of being taken up as trespassers upon their own hill pasture ?
—The gamekeepers think that at certain seasons of the year they will not allow a man or beast to go upon the moorland pasture, and they employ one out upon this moorland pasture during the summer. They keep a man out upon the moorland pasture to take up any man or child whom they may find straying there, in case he may be there robbing the nests of the birds.

16066. Is this a deer forest or an ordinary grouse shooting?
—We have no deer now. I remember the day—I was young at the time—when I could see one hundred deers on the hill, and I could not see three now.

16067. What is the name of the gamekeeper who does what you have mentioned ?
—I don't remember his name exactly. He belongs to Gress.

16068. What is the name of the shooting tenant?
—I don't know. He is an English gentleman living in London.

16069. Why do you and the other people pay attention to such conduct on the part of the gamekeeper ?
—Bless you ! have not I seen two lads sent for nine weeks to the prison there for robbing a grouse nest, and one of them barely came out alive ?

16070. But it is one thing to steal eggs and another thing to walk over your own grounds upon your own lawful business?
—That is quite the case, but our great complaint is that we are prevented from sending a boy or anybody else out to attend to the cattle.

16071. Are you afraid of being turned off if you stand out against any such conduct ? Are you afraid of being disturbed in your holdings ?
—Yes, we are.

16072. Is the gamekeeper in the stated regular employment of the proprietor, or is he one that is changeable with the tenant ?
—I am not very sure, but he may be in the service of both. I believe he is in the service of the man who is the shooting tenant.

16073. Do you consider him, in point of fact, an authority upon the estate, whose will is not to be gone against ?
—Yes, we look upon him in that light. It is the part of the tenants to be obedient.

16074. You say here that there are twenty-six single men in your township who would likely take land to-morrow if they got the chance. What exactly are they looking for? Is it at present uncultivated land that they would take in and cultivate, or what ?
—The waste townships that are under sheep, that were cleared before, these are the places the people are looking for, and would be glad to get.

16075. But is there any place of that nature near you except Upper Coll ?
—No, except Garryghuirm, that was formerly cleared.

16076. To whom does Garryghuirm belong?
—To Mr Hunter.

16077. How many families do you suppose this tack, if broken up and made into large sized crofts, would keep ? You say, on the one hand, it would keep a hundred families in comfort and on the other eighty. Now, which do you mean would keep a hundred families, and which would  keep eighty ?
—Colurich [Upper Coll, transcriber's note] and Garryghuirm could accommodate a hundred families and Gress could accommodate eighty.
—Are all these places in the neighbourhood ?

16078. Is the township much in arrear of rent do you know?
—I believe they are in arrears this year.

16079. Would the people, if they got the additional land be enabled to stock it ?
—They would stock it by degrees.

16080. Supposing they got assistance to stock it at the beginning, would they be willing to pay back by instalment ?
—Yes, that they would.

16081. From what you know of the sentiments of the townships do you say they want no relief whatever in the way of alms but whatever they wish for they will pay in time ?
—Any assistance they might get they would pay it back; they don't look for alms.

16082. Mr Cameron.
—You said there was an old man who was in arrears of rent and that his successor stepped into the croft, paid the arrears by selling the cows, and the arrears were £13 ?
—Yes, that is quite correct.

16083. If the old tenant owed £13 to the landlord, the landlord might himself have sold the cows, and it would have come to the same thing ?
—If it would be as well to do so, still the man had to have his cattle sold in order to pay these arrears.

16084. Did the cattle belong to the new man, or did they belong to the landlord—as due for arrears of rent?
—They belonged to the incoming tenant.

16085. Had the outgoing tenant any stock at all?
—The state of affairs was this, that the old man had only one son, and he died. He and his wife were getting frail, and they had an elderly daughter who was supporting them. Now this daughter was getting parochial relief for attending upon her father and mother, and she thought that the rent of the croft should be paid as well as the relief she got for these services she rendered. Now, when the young man got the croft there was only £4 or £5 of debt, and when the debt had increased to £13, Mr Munro, the then chamberlain, came and insisted with violent language that the whole of this debt must be paid, and the new tenant sold his own two cows and paid the debt.

16086. Was he a relation?
—No, no relation whatever.

16087. Or his wife ?
—His wife was not a relation either.

16088. Is it a practice in the townships, or on that part of the estate with which you are acquainted, for the new tenant to pay the arrears of the old ?
—I have heard several instances in addition to this one, from whom Mr Munro, the chamberlain, exacted the arrears of rent in this way.

16089. And does the practice still prevail at all?
—I don't know what the practice may be just now. Ever since the present factor came in there was nothing of that sort done upon us. These things were done by
his two predecessors.

16090. The Chairman.
—Was this young man in possession for some time before the £13 was demanded of him?
—He would be about ten years in possession.

16091. Did he pay his own rent regularly from the beginning?

16092. And had he cropped the land when it was in possession of the old people and the daughter ?

16093. Are the tenants bound by the estate rules to keep a herd for their cattle ?
—We have a herd for the sheep. And the estate authorities wished there should also be one herd or two herds for the cattle, so that there should be no trespassing upon the moorland pasture, for the sake of the grouse, but the people of the place objected to such an arrangement.

16094. Then it is a rule of the estate that only the herds or shepherds shall be upon the moor at a particular time of the year ?
—Yes, that is the rule of the estate.

16095. I forgot to ask the name of the crofter who paid this sum of money for the arrears of his predecessor?
—Donald M'lver, Nether Coll.

16096. And the name of his predecessor?
—Donald Macdonald.

16097. Who 'wrote this paper you have put in?
—Murdo M'Leod. His abode is in Glasgow.

16098. Was it read to the people of Coll before you came here?
—No, they did not come to hear it read.

16099. Are you of opinion that they agree in it?
—Yes, they would, and I am not certain but they may blame me for not having made more statements than there are in that paper. But there is nothing in it which I cannot prove, and which any person can gainsay.

16100. Did the people meet to elect you ?

16101. And the paper was not read at that time?
—No. At the meeting one said put in this statement, and another said put in that statement, but I put in no statement except what I was certain of my
own knowledge was true.

16102. Then this statement, though written by a young man from Glasgow, was really written by you?
—Yes, he merely wrote it to my dictation. He is a native of the place, and has come to live at home.

16103. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Were you elected a delegate because you are one of the oldest inhabitants of the township?
—I was elected, whether I willed or not, because I was one of the oldest men and because I speak of old times even before Sir James bought the estate. I am such an age now that I do not require land for myself and I would be giving up land rather than be asking for more.

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