Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - Angus Ferguson

ANGUS FERGUSON, Cottar and Fisherman, Taransay (48)—examined

18068. The Chairman.
—How many cottars are there in Taransay?
—Ten families.

18069. Were you chosen by these ten families to represent them here?

18070. What do you wish to say on their behalf?
—I wish to speak of the poor condition of the people ever since I first remember them. When I first remember the place my father had a holding there. The third part of the island was under crofts. There were fourteen families upon that portion. These crofts were removed when I was nine years of age, and the island was cleared for John M'Donald. The whole fourteen families were removed from the island in all directions. Some went to the south-west of Harris, some to Lewis, and others elsewhere. My father was allowed to remain by the tacksman in the place where we were when we had a croft, and that accounts for our being in the island. Ever since we lost that land we have not been able to get a holding of land since. We had nothing but to be cottars under the tacksman, and to be dealt with just as he pleased; and the arrangement between him and us, which subsisted while he was in life, was this,—we worked the land for him, and we gave him half the produce. He allowed us to keep a cow and eight sheep. His son succeeded him, and he made a different arrangement with us. We had net cow or sheep since that time. At that time we had to take to the lobster fishing and such work as goes on in the place. This tacksman gave us potato ground to the extent of four or five barrels, upon condition that we would give him in return farm service any day of the year he wished us. And now because we were in a very remote corner of the world, where few advantages could be got, we were obliged to accept these conditions, although we felt them hard. We are not allowed to sow either oats or barley, but only potatoes; and we are obliged to fish the whole year, summer and winter, autumn and spring, in order to enable us to obtain a livelihood, for this amount of potatoes does little to support us. I have been head of a family for the last twenty-six years, and during that time I have neither had cow nor sheep, and I did not earn sixpence on Taransay ever since. I have obtained my livelihood by braving many a danger upon the wild shore through the spring and winter months, where a stranger could scarcely expect that a boat would live.

18071. It is said by some people that the land is not big enough, without the help of fishing, to support all the population, and that it would be desirable to make some of them entirely fishermen. Do you think Taransay is a good station for fishermen ?
—It is a suitable fishing station, but the coast is wild and exposed, and during the winter months it may be two months, and it may be five or six weeks, before a boat could leave the shore.

18072. If they had better boats, with proper landing places, would they be able to fish more regularly ?
—It is only small boats that we have, and the fishing we prosecute does not require heavy boats, neither does the shore upon which we land them. They must be boats of such weight as we can haul ashore.

18073. Do you get any wages from the tacksman for your services, beyond the potato ground ?

18074. Are you obliged to stop at home to do that service whenever it is called for?
—Well, upon certain days we must remain at home from our own fishing,—such days as when we have to ferry heavy cattle between the shore and the island, and such work as that, that requires people in order to carry it out.

18075. How many days on the average in the year are you employed in Mr Macdonald's service ?
—We work very irregularly—a bit of a day now and a bit of a day again,—but I believe, if they were all strung together, they would make about sixty full days in the year.

18076. Then how many days, broken and unbroken, are you called away from your employment by Mr Macdonald? Will it be twice a week on an average?
—Perhaps some weeks we might be called twice, and others not.

18077. Did you hear Mr Mackenzie say he thought the island would support forty families paying a rent of £5 each?
—We had suggested information to that effect to Mr Mackenzie ourselves.

18078. Then you believe forty crofters could afford to pay £5 a piece for it?
—I would think they might be inclined to pay £5 each for it. It would certainly support forty families.

18079. What would you think a fair rent for each?
—I could give no information upon that matter.

18080. What would you yourself be inclined to give for a fortieth share of the island ?
—A fortieth of it would be worth £4 or £ 5 at least.

18081. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Does Mr Macdonald live on the island ?
—Yes, sometimes. His principal dwelling is at Scaristaveg.

18082. How many farms has he got?

18083. What stock has he on Taransay?
—The shepherd can tell; I do not know.

18084. Are there a good number of cows ?
—Yes, there are a lot of cattle.

18085. You have no sheep or cattle?

18086. Why are you not allowed to keep a cow or a sheep1?
—The will of the tacksman.

18087. Would it do very much injury to the farm if each of the cottars had a cow ?

18088. Where do you get milk?
—We get no milk at all. unless from some of the neighbours when they come ashore from the mainland.

18089. Are all the children of those cottars deprived of milk except what they get from the mainland ?
—They are.

18090. How many children, roughly speaking, may there be among those families of cottars?
—There are seventy-six inhabitants on the island. I do not know the number of children.

18091. And, old and young, they are entirely destitute of milk?
—It is only one of these that has milk— a servant of Taransay.

18092. You say you may work sixty days in the course of the year. Are we to understand and suppose you only get a wage of Is. per day? You pay £3 for the privilege of planting five barrels of potatoes ?
—That is the case, considering the calculation I have made of the days of the week.

18093. Is this labour of sixty days exacted only from the head of the family, or are the women obliged to contribute to it ?
—The head of the family does it, the women do it, and the children do it, accordingly as one is more handy when the work is needed.

18094. But there is only one member of each family bound to do it?
—Only one.

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