RODERICK M'SWEEN, Crofter, Steinish (77)—examined.
16616. Professor Mackinnon.
—You have a statement to submit to the Commissioners ?
—Statement of Crofters. Grievances from the Township of Steinish, in the parish of Stornoway, for submission to the Royal Commission, 6th June 1883.
—Gentlemen, We are poor ignorant men, and would humbly lay our grievances in brevity before you for redress and remedy. These are, viz., that the proprietor deprived us of 120 acres of agricultural ground and moor pasture, of which he gave, without any reduction of rent to us, 19 acres to Mrs Houston, a large farmeress at Melbost, and 50 acres to one Mr Simon Fraser (who came here a total stranger), who rents the same at £11 sterling. Roderick M'Sween, the eldest man in the said township, and the longest crofter paying rent for forty-three years past, remembers well of the previous rent having been £30, 17s., whereas it is now £41—thus giving an increase in rental of £10, 3s. (see Appendix A. XL). After the deprivation of the great extent of land taken from us, the proprietor has given the best part of our township to others without our consent, namely, 8 acres to J. Leadingham, 30 acres to George Mackenzie, besides the Tongue of Tong, the best grazing we had, to Mr Grant, a large sheep, &c, farmer. These are only a few out of many of our grievances, which we would humbly submit to your Commission; but as brevity must be observed, we will presently close with the last but not least hardship to which we have been subjected, and which is a shame and disgrace in a Christian country—that is the bona fide fact, the impossibility of getting a road to our burial ground without trespass and scaling a dyke six feet high with our dead for interment, although we have been paying taxes and road assessment for the whole period of our occupancy of our present crofts or lots. We shall be glad to appear before you, and in our own humble and illiterate manner answer any questions you may be pleased to ask us; and hoping you will be the cause of redressing our grievances and ameliorating our poor condition, we have the honour to be, gentlemen, your most obedient servants, the crofters of Steinish, near Stornoway. Per RODERICK M'SWEEN and MURDO M'LENNAN.
16617. Who wrote the paper you now submit ?
—Mr Walter Rose.
16618. Was it read to you before?
—It was the people of the place who put down what was put into that paper by Mr Rose.
16619. So that you know yourself quite well what is in the paper?
16620. How many people are in that place paying rent ?
—Fourteen at present pay rent
16621. How much rent do they pay ?
—Upwards of £40. I came there forty-three years ago, and there were eight lots then.
16622. You say that 120 acres of agricultural ground and moorland pasture were taken from you first, and you got no reduction of rent for that. When was this done ?
—It is thirty-three years at least since most of it was taken from us.
16623. And then there were nineteen acres given to Mrs Houston ; when was that ?
—About the same time. I was at sea at the time.
16624. And the fifty acres given to Mr Fraser,—was that at the same time ?
—All at the same time.
16625. And in none of the cases was there any reduction of rent ?
16626. Now, you say the rent has been increased by £ 10 during the last forty-three years. Does that mean that the £ 10 includes taxes ?
16627. So the actual rent has not increased so much as that ?
16628. You said that the proprietor gave without your consent eight acres to Mr Leadingham; when was that?
—A long time ago. I cannot mention the date. I was at sea at the time.
16629. And thirty acres to Mr George Mackenzie; and no reduction of rent ?
—Eight acres of the thirty were given to Mr Mackenzie in Lady Hood's time, and the rest in Sir James' time.
16630. With regard to the grievance about the churchyard, it is stated in the paper here that there is no road to the burial ground except by scaling a dyke six feet high with your dead for interment. Is that the only place where the people of your township bury their dead ?
—Our burying place is at Uy.
16631. But is this place also used by the people for burying their dead ?
—The complaint is not that the chuchyard is surrounded by a six feet wall without a gate, but that there is a six feet wall near our own house on the road—the only road we can conveniently go to the churchyard.
16632. But suppose there was a gate on that wall, you would require a road through the farm to the churchyard ?
16633. Was that the way you used to go long ago?
—Yes; that was the regular burying place.
16634. Is this a grievance that affects other people as well as your township ?
—It affects only our township. The others can go by another way.
16635. Did you endeavour to get a gate put upon the wall to allow you to go to the churchyard?
—There was a gate, but in order to prevent the possible access of a beast through that gate into the parks, the gate was broken down, and the entrance closed up.
16636. Have you made any endeavour to get that gate restored ?
—I did not like to trouble the factor, but the ground officer was spoken to this year about it.
16637. What did he say?
—I do not know what he said. It was somebody else who spoke to him and not myself. The conversation occurred at a funeral at which the ground officer was present.
16638. In regard to your crofts, what is it the people in your place would wish to be done ?
—When I came to Steinish forty-three years ago, I was paying £4, 4s. of rent. I had four milk cows then. It is thirtythree years since the pasture I have mentioned was taken from us, and now I can scarcely maintain one cow. Two cows are the most that any crofter in the place keeps, and it is as much as they can do to keep them.
16639. How would you put these matters right?
—What the people want is more grass for their cattle, and the arable land which they lost. They require kitchen with their food as well as the food itself—milk and butter, and clothing to clothe themselves.
16640. Do you think the place is large enough to support the whole fourteen of you—the land you had before?
—We would be very well contented with it.
16641. The rent has increased, but chiefly by taxation. You don't complain that the rent is too high ?
—I know it is too high.
16642. You yourself pay £4 ?
—I pay £4, 12s. 6d. besides taxes.
16643. What rent do you think would be a fair rent for your croft without taxes ?
—If it was at the same rent at which we had it before we would be content that is £4, 4s. with the pasture land restored.
16644. Is it good land that you have?
—It is not bad land at all; we are not complaining of the land.
16645. Would it be easy to give you back what you had before?
—It is easy enough, if they liked to give it to us.
16646. Why was it taken away ; was it that the boundaries would be easier marked, or what ?
—I cannot answer that.
16647. You know the boundaries of the place well enough; were the boundaries more natural in the old time than now ?
—The boundaries that are now between us and the tack were made at the time when the tack was erected. The dyke was made close to our doors when that land was taken from us. A boy standing at any of the doors in our township, in the centre, could easily throw a stone to the boundary on the one side and to that on the other.
16648. So if the old boundaries were renewed again, do you think the fourteen families could live upon the old land in comfort in your place ?
16649. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the name of the tack on the one side ?
16650. And what is the name of the tack on the other side?
—The other tack is Mr Simon Fraser's, and it has no other name than that of Steinish.
16651. Was that fence put up entirely for the advantage of those two tacks, and to the loss of the crofters?
—These dykes were erected entirely for the benefit of the tacks on each side. We were deprived of our peat moss at the same time.
16652. In regard to this wall keeping you from the churchyard, is the road on the other side of the dyke along to the churchyard destroyed ?
—It is not destroyed, it is as good as ever.
16653. That is on your own side, but on the other side what is it?
—There is a part of the ground on that side—the tacksman's side—where there never was a road ; but beyond that the road is as it was.
16654. Is it a very old burial ground?
—The oldest churchyard in Lewis. It is called Aignish.
16655. Do you know it is illegal by the law of Scotland to shut up any road leading to a churchyard or to a church ?
—I believe it is.
16656. And if so, why did you permit this?
—Because we were very peaceable, and preferred to bear it rather than put other people to trouble.