Stornoway, Lewis, 9 June 1883, John Stewart

JOHN STEWART, Crofter and Fisherman, Bayble (50)—examined.
16386. The Chairman.
—Were you chosen by the people of Bayble to represent them?

16387. What number of people are there in the township?
—This township—Bayble—is really divided into four different places, for every one of which delegates were appointed. I cannot speak for the whole of them, but I can speak for Upper Bayble.

16388. What is the number of families in Upper Bayble ?
—About sixty.

16389. Did the people know of the meeting when you were chosen ?
—The whole township was present when I was elected.

16390. Have you any statement to make on the part of the township ?
—In the first place, I have to say we have too little land, and again we are much crowded together because of the numerous population,—poor crofts and high rents. In this way we are so much reduced, so far brought down, that it is with the utmost difficulty that we are able to keep body and soul together, people gathered from all parts of the island and thrown in upon us, and new lots apportioned out at our very doors for these people, so that we cannot move about freely and carry peats or any other supplies to our own houses,—a fence dyke round us, and the only bit that we had in order to get to our peat moss was this year taken from us and given to another man, so that now we are in a worse plight than ever. If we had land, and I myself, as head of a family, endeavouring to rear my family as well as I can,—if I had an opportunity of getting a piece of land, and all of us had, we would be enabled to live more comfortably than now we can do. I take my living for my family out of the sea. What I take out of the croft would not support my family for one week this year. I was only able to make one boll of meal, and I had no potatoes at all,—so that I have to live upon the good-will of the Stornoway merchants, and because of the unsuccessful fishing I have run so much in debt with them, that now my credit is gone. They say Cape Horn is a wild place. Now this place where I live is exposed to the winds that blow down upon the one side from Cape Wrath and upon the other from the Butt of Lewis—two places that are quite as wild as Cape Horn. Our shore is so exposed from these two quarters, that while we could work well enough at sea, we are not able to save our lives or our boats when we reach the land. For want of a place of refuge, I lost a boat that cost over £100. If we had a place of refuge there, since we can work well, we would be able to take our living out of the sea, as other people in Scotland are able to do. I remember the quay having been built there, and my father having paid his £ 1 for the boat, as all the other people who had boats had to pay; and that quay was broken down by order of some one connected with the estate,—I don't know who. This has rendered the place more exposed, through the breaking down of the quay, than it was before the quay was built at all,—so much so that my own son, along with four of a crew, were drowned by the capsizing of the boat at our own door. Our only resource then is in this way cut away from us. My son was supporting me, and after his loss I am now reduced very low. The township is very large, and I would beseech you to hear one other delegate, who is older than I am, to speak on behalf of the town.

16391. Is Bayble near Garabost?
—It is right opposite it.

16392. Is the quay you speak of the same that was spoken of by the people of Garabost yesterday ?
—Yes, it is the same landing place of the herring boats.

16393. Was the quay that was there before sufficiently good for what you required ?
—Yes, we could save our boats there, and it was very handy for landing the fish and gear.

16394. How many crofters were there in the place you represent when you first remember ?
—About thirty.

16395. How has the increase arisen?
—There were some came from outside ; the rest are the increase of the place.

16396. How many may there be from the outside? Are there ten?
—Probably there were not ten families coining in, but a single man would come in and marry a girl from Bayble, and settle there.

16397. Do you think there were five families sent in by the order of the factor?
—Not since I remember. I remember one in particular that came dext door to myself from the parish of Uig.

16398. What meal and potatoes do you get out of your croft on an average of years?
—Two bolls of barley meal and one boll of oatmeal would make an average year, and about twelve barrels of potatoes. I never got as high as twenty barrels of potatoes in any one year. I have only half a lot.

16399. Who has the other half?
—The widow of a neighbour who was drowned along with my own son.

16400. What stock have you ?
—One cow and a stirk and one sheep. When 1 have to buy for my family I have also to buy food for the cow. I cannot get out of the croft what will feed that one cow.

16401. What rent do you pay?
—35s. of bare rent.

16402. Had you more out-pasturage when you first remember?
—Yes, we had that portion at the back of the ring fence of the township, where other lots were cut out for us.

16403. Who got those other lots ?
—That increase I spoke of was partly the increase of the place and partly some coming in from the outside.

16404. Except the one family from Uig, the people of the place have got the whole land, though it is differently divided ?
—You know when these lots were cut out, they were given to young men and to some old people that had no lots at the time.

16105. Is there any additional land in the neighbourhood that you could get ?
—There is a little upon our side of the township yet, but the giving of that to us would only shut the others in more than they are ; but there is plenty throughout the country and I would be quite ready to go to any place in the island that would be near the sea, to take up a bit of land, in preference to remaining where I am.

16406. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—At whose expense do you know, was the quay that was destroyed originally erected ?
—I cannot tell, unless it was at Sir James Matheson's, with such assistance as he might get from the fish-curers, and with this £1 that was levied upon the fishing boats.

16407. Though you don't know upon whose authority the thing was destroyed, did you see with your own eyes the work of destruction going on?
—Yes, I saw it with my own eyes. The practice was to go down with a steam launch and a lighter. The lighter would be left there beside the quay, and stranded upon the beach, and filled with stones, and then when the tide came in the launch would come back and tow it to Stornoway.

16408. How long ago did that occur?
—Over twelve years ago.

16409. Did the people protest or make any remonstrance against this?
—I told them they were doing a bad turn to us, but I said nothing more than that.

16410. Were you afraid to make any more serious complaint?
—Yes ; were it not for that I would not have let the stones be taken away, for they were of great service to us.

16411. Was it to the people engaged in the actual work of loading and unloading that you made the remonstrance ?

16412. How many families in your district would be interested in or benefited by the proposed new quay that you speak of ?
—It would be a means of livelihood to about two hundred families from Bayble alone, in addition to such other families as could make use of it from neighbouring places, such as Garabost, Shashader, and Knock. These would make it a fishing station in the summer season.

16413. Have you any idea what the cost of such a pier, suitable for your locality, would be ?
—I could not give any idea as to the actual cost in money of such an undertaking, but to build what we call a harbour of refuge, which the boats would run into for shelter, would cost very little in money. Stones are there ; it is easily constructed, and the people of the place all round about would be very willing to lend a hand. I myself am an old man, and I would be very glad to lend a hand.

16414. Would it not also be worth your while to pay annually a small sum for the use of that pier ?
—We would be only too glad to do so.

16415. Mr Cameron.
—You state that if you got a suitable harbour of refuge, you would be willing to take your living in a great measure out of the sea ?
—Yes, I would not have worked both my strength and my credit in making a livelihood, if I had had that in the past.

16416. Is that the opinion and the wish of the people whom you represent also ?
—Yes, so far as the quay is concerned, but they would also like to get assistance from the land. Those that could not work by the sea would also have to be looked after, and the Government should see to it that they also should have some kind of assistance given them.

16417. Are all the people in your neighbourhood what you may call a fishing population ?
—Everybody that can.

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