Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - John Mcleod

JOHN M'LEOD, Cottar and Fisherman, Ardhassaig (62)—examined.

17779. The Chairman.
—How many families are there in Ardhassaig?
—Fifteen families.

17780. Are they all cottars, or do any of them hold land?
—Eleven hold land ; four are without land.

17781. Do you represent the holders of land as well as the cottars?

17782. What have you to say on behalf of the people of Ardhassaig?
—They are very much hemmed and crowded in, but it is not an act of today. This overcrowding commenced seventy years ago, and since that time we have had no relief. We suffer in a variety of ways. When I lost my land myself thirty years ago, I turned my attention to the ocean to take my living out of the sea; but I found bounds set before me in the ocean, and I was not allowed to set a net with a smaller mesh than two inches within half a mile of any shore, or bay, or creek, without incurring the risk of punishment in Lochmaddy,—any bay or creek, or any place that could be approached by salmon or sea trout. But we have survived it all We who are without land are a burden upon those who have a little of it ; and if it were not that they accommodate us out of their little, by giving us potato ground, we had long ago starved in a heap. I would wish you to understand that I don't mean to blame in the least our present proprietor or present factor. We were put into an impoverished condition long before the proprietor ever came to the island, and if you would like to hear how our distress came about I can tell you. Donald Stewart was once factor under Macleod of Harris, and it was then our troubles commenced. He began to clear the land, and he began with Huishnish. He cleared seven townships at one stroke. His next move was to turn his attention to Macleod himself, and devise how he could manage to make a fool of him, and he succeeded, because before the end came they used to a beggar. Macleod was latterly, through his instrumentality, reduced to such a poor condition that he actually obtained his support in Donald Stewart's own house. I have seen Macleod in the market in this very place leading a horse by the bridle, and having no one that would wait upon him, while Donald Stewart was making his hundreds by his cattle upon this man's lands. It was the next factor—Macdonald—who succeeded him, that deprived me of my lands, and he was not a whit better. The end of it was that my family, when they grew up, scattered into all parts of the earth; and some of them are dead in a foreign land, and others I know not where they are,—and I am alone. Hundreds suffered equally with myself. There are at least twice as many both in North and South Harris without lands as there are that have land. I think it is a sad condition of affairs in this place. There is not a family in the whole of Harris where there are two sons but one of them at least is in the service of the Queen, perhaps two, and neither they nor their fathers can obtain a foot of the soil upon which they could live. It would appear that, when Britain becomes involved in a struggle with another nation in the future, they must send for the deer and sheep of Harris as well as its young men, and then they can see which is the best bargain.

17783. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How did you lose your land thirty years ago ?
—Thereby hangs a tale. There was a lady in Uist and a gentleman in Skye, and my brother had a vessel, and he came in the vessel with Donald Macdonald from Monkstadt, and he went to Balranald in order to remove from thence the young lady, whose parents were not willing that she should marry the young gentleman in the ordinary way. They wished her to marry the man who was at the time factor upon the estate; but this man took her away. The factor, Macdonald, had his revenge upon me and my two brothers for this act, though we were quite innocent of it. One of my brothers was at the time in Borv, and another in Scalpa, and I had a sister in West Tarbert. The four of us had lands at the time, and he deprived us of them all. One of my brothers went to Australia, where he is still. That is how I lost my land—the sole cause. I did not get lands since.

17784. Was it taken from you the next term after that romantic affair ?

17785. Were you in arrears at the time ?
—I was £6 in arrears at the time, but I had two cows and a quey, and I offered to the factor to allow the ground officer to come and take possession of these for the arrears, but he would not accept the offer.

17786. Have you applied for land since then?
—I have never made application for land since. I turned my face to the sea, and for the last thirty years I have endeavoured to make a livelihood out of it with a small boat of sixteen feet keel. Then you have no land at all?
—No, none whatever—except that I may occasionally get a patch from my neighbours.

17787. You cannot keep a cow, I suppose ?
—I have a cow, and I pay a little for it to a good man that is in the place. Were it not for that I would be without any.

17788. Are the other cottars in the same condition?
—They do not in the village. They have free houses. The proprietor allows them to build, and does not charge them feu-duty. They have no lease whatever, and they are taxed meanwhile.

17789. Have they cows?
—There is another cottar as well as myself, who has a cow.

17790. Do they fish ?

17791. Do you fish with long lines for cod and ling?
—Yes, we fish for anything that comes, but occasionally cod and ling, and in winter lobsters.

17792. When was the prohibition about your using the net with a small mesh put in force ?
—I cannot exactly give the date, but it would have been about that time—that is, thirty years ago.

17793. Did you not know that that was made to prevent the catching of young herring ?
—I never thought that was the reason. The reason I thought was that I was prevented from using a smaller mesh than two inches, in case I might catch a salmon or sea trout, and thus deprived any of the young sportsmen who came to fish of such a luxury. We don't think that God created fish for the benefit of one man more than another; and we would like to know by what right or title the one rather than the other can make a proper claim to that privilege.

17794. Were you ever forbidden to fish within a certain distance of the shore ?
—Yes, there was a man in Urga that was taken to Lochmaddy and imprisoned there for transgressing this rule by placing the nets within prescribed limits, and he told me, after he came back, that he would never recover from the effects of that confinement. They deprived him of his nets, and they have never been restored to his widow to this day.

17795. The Chairman.
—Do you hear from your brother in Australia ?

17796. What sort of position is he in there now?
—In a good position.

17797. Has he any land ?

17798. Are any of your own children in Australia?
—I cannot tell where they are. They are scattered over the world.

17799. Were they not able to write letters themselves?
—Yes, they can ; I get letters from them now and again.

17800. Where from?
—Sometimes from the East, sometimes from America, sometimes from Africa ; they are sailors.

17801. Are all your family settled in foreign lands?

17802. Did your brother never recommend you to go out to him?
—Yes, he did ; but my family did not wish to go.

17803. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Where is Ardhassaig?
—It is upon West Loch Tarbert, about 2½ miles from here.

17804. Is it now part of the forest?
—No; I just live upon the march.

17805. You stated that one Stewart cleared seven townships, can you name them ?
—Leuachar, Deirisqir, Cravadal, Tuishnish, Govaig, Leosabay, Amhainsuidhe.

17806. Are all these townships part of the forest ?

17807. Did Stewart take these places into his own hand at the time?
—No, a relative of his own from Loch Alsh, named Alexander Macrae, got them.

17808. Have you any idea how many families were in those seven townships ?
—In six of the townships there were thirteen families ; as to Tuishnish, I cannot say very well. It could keep six comfortably. It was in the possession of one man, and he kept people upon it himself; but it would make comfortable six families.

17809. Did Stewart clear out any other places ?
—He cleared the whole of the west side of Harris, from Rodel to the head of Loch Eisort—a stretch of over forty miles of shore.

17810. What became of the people?
—Some of them went to Lewis; some of them were sent to the other side of Harris; some to America, some went to places never before occupied—along between here and Rodel, and if you could see some of these very places you would be surprised that even goats could live in them.

17811. Do you refer to Finsbay ?
—I mean Finsbay and places less inaccessible than Finsbay—Caolas Stocknish.

17812. Can you give us a rough estimate of the number of souls that were dispossessed by Stewart ?
—It is quite impossible for me to tell you the number of souls that were dispossessed by that man out of these lands.

17813. Would they amount to hundreds?
—There would be hundreds.

17814. Who was Stewart?
—He was a native of Appin, and he came first to this country as a shepherd to the Park in Lewis, and from the Park in Lewis he came here.

17815. Is he alive yet ?
—He is not living now.

17816. With regard to Macdonald, who succeeded him, what did he do in the way of dispossessing the people ?
—Macdonald cleared Pabbay where twenty-six families were. Some went to Australia, some of them were sent to the east side of Harris. Stewart first packed them into these places, and Mr Macdonlad repacked the places,—that is, filled up the interstices. He also cleared the half of Bernera, but I cannot tell how many families may have been there.

17817. Who has got Bernera, and who has got Pabbay ?
—John Stewart has Pabbay and Ensay—the son of this Donald Stewart of whom I spoke before.

17818. Is he now proprietor of Pabbay?
—He is proprietor of both Pabbay and Ensay.

17819. Has he the half of Bernera?
—The portion of Bernera under tack is, I think, in the hands of a North Uist man. He also cleared Lingivra, Cuidinish, Deiricleit, Ceandevig. A large number of the people that left these places went to Australia and died upon the voyage. Some went to America, some to Caolas Scalpa, and to the island of Scalpa itself, where they are now packed thick as herrings in a barrel.

17820. Who are now in those places that Macdonald cleared?
—Deiricliet and Ceandevig are part of Lord Dunmore's forest. A native of this place—Donald M'Leod—is the tacksman of Cuidinish. Lingivra was added to the farm of Rodel.

17821. Is any of the land that was cleared by Macdonald now in the possession of crofters ?

17822. Were you acquainted personally with several of those people that were so removed ?
—Yes, I knew some of them.

17823. Can you say generally that these people were in good circumstances?
—Yes, in very good circumstances.

17824. Was there any reason for the dispossession of those people except for the aggrandisement of big farms ?
—I knew no reason, unless some of them may have been in arrears; but I know that a large number of them were not in arrears.

17825. There was no attempt made when the township was intended to be cleared to give it to the solvent crofters, and put out the other ones ?
—I never heard of such an attempt being made in this country.

17826. Had you ever anything to do with the transactions for which you suppose you and the various members of your family were put out of the country ?
—I did not know any such thing was being done at all at the time.

17827. Did this Macdonald use his influence or authority as factor, or the authority of the estate, to pay off what he considered his own private wrong?
—I do not think he consulted the proprietor in the matter. He used his own authority, and it was quite sufficient.

17828. Who was proprietor at that time?
—The present Earl of Dunmore.

17829. Was he then a minor ?
—I think he was a minor.

17830. You do not blame the proprietor in any way for this ?
—No, in no respect.

17831. Was it talked of through the place at the time, and considered, that this removal of yourself and members of your family was owing to the circumstance that then occurred with regard to the elopement ?
—Yes, that was the belief in the place.

17832. Now that so many years have gone past since then, is it your firm belief that the reason you have stated was the correct one ?
—Yes, I believe it, and will believe to the day of my death that that was the sole reason why I lost my land.

17833. Mr Cameron.
—You have given us some very interesting information about events which occurred at a period ranging from sixty to thirty years ago. I should like to know whether you have any grievance to complain of as to the present management of the estate, either in regard to evictions or clearances or other matters of that kind?
—I have no complaint as regards eviction or arbitrary removals within recent time.

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