Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - John Mcdiarmid

JOHN M'DIARMID, formerly Crofter and Fisherman, Scalpa (88)—examined.

17834. The Chairman.
—How many families are there in Scalpa?
—There are forty there paying rent and near sixty without any land at all.

17835. Are you sent here to represent all these ?
—Yes.

17836. Will you state what they wish you to say?
—That the whole of these crofters and cottars are very very poor and very crowded, and have hard times of it. Of these forty who have land the utmost that can be said of their crops is that they would support them about two months in the year. The whole of the population—cottars and crofters—have to pursue the fishing, chiefly lobster fishing, and they have to be out summer, spring, and winter, at least eleven months in the year. They have to go often from home, and live in bothies, and sometimes as far as Uist. Then everybody that can go to the east coast fishing goes there,—to Wick. Immediately after their return from the east coast fishing they take to the home fishing. Some take to the long line fishing, and others of them, at the fall of the year, to the lobster fishing. And then, times are very hard. They have to go for manure to the Lewis shores, and sometimes across to the Shiant islands, near the mainland of Skye. Some of them go to the shores of Skye for the lobster fishing, and upon one occasion when a crew of them set up a tent on one of the islands in Loch Snizort, the tacksman to whom the place belonged came with his rifle, and they were preparing their food at the time, and he knocked down the pots and threw the food all over the place, and threatened that unless they left the place they would be shot. The cause of all this is the excessive population of the place. They have fished their own shore clean, and they have to pursue the lobster fishing at a distance. They also follow it up all the way to Lochmaddy. The island was formerly occupied by two or three tacksmen in succession, before it was crofted out, but these had to throw it up. When the factor found out that the tacksmen could not live there, he settled it upon twenty crofters. When the twenty were there they were pretty nigh contented and able to make somewhat of a living out of it. Now, Lord Dunmore's commissioner, at the time, who had authority over the local factors, was a Captain Sitwell. He came officially to see the lands. This man, finding that this island was accessible by sea, thought it might be advisable to make it a fishing community, and so he added another twenty families upon the twenty who were there. When this second twenty was sent in, the original crofts were subdivided among the forty. Then they began to fall back when this second twenty were sent to the place. Then, when these forty were there, and commenced to prosecute the fishing, this man also thought proper that a curer should be sent there who would take all their fish from them, pretending that this would be a great advantage to the community. This arrangement only lasted for a year. By this time the families of the original settlers were growing up and having families of their own. Their families were sharing their own small portions of land with them. The practice grew apace, so that, to make a long story short, there are now, if not a full hundred, at least close upon a hundred families in the place, through its having increased as I have described. There seemed to be no way by which this population could make a livelihood out of it at all, but there was a native of the place who was able, through Providence, to set up a curing establishment,
and he provided for the people necessities, and took from them the fish that they caught, and it may be said of him that he has kept them agoing for the last twenty-eight years since I came to the island. He provided them with boats and nets with which they were able to fish the Minch—the early herring fishing between here and Skye—before they went to the east coast fishing. For the last two years this early fishing has failed completely, and both curer and men suffered in consequence. Still, although these things were so, this man has provided for them so that although there was scarcely any expectation of any return, it could be said that none of them went to bed hungry. He acted so in the expectation that things might mend. The fishing is a complete failure this year again, and it is quite easy enough for you to understand that times must be hard in a small island with 500 souls upon the surface of it.

17837. How long is it since Scalpa was first settled with twenty settlers ?
—Nearly forty years.

17838. When did Captain Sitwell put on the second twenty ?
—About five years after the first twenty.

17839. Where did you come from yourself?
—I was born and spent the greater part of my lifetime at Strain, near Rodel, so that I can give a perfectly intelligible account of the circumstanecs

17840. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many proprietors of Harris do you recollect ?
—The first was M'Leod of Bernera. The second was Hume, his son, who assumed the other name from his wife. The third was Alexander, who reassumed the name of Macleod. It was he who lost the property. It went to trustees, who sold it to the grandfather of the present Lord Dunmore. I meant to give three instances of the causes of the poverty of this place, but to save time I shall give you the third only. I will tell you how Rodel was cleared. There were 150 hearths in Rodel. Forty of these paid rent. When young Macleod came home with his newly-married wife to Rodel he went away to show his wife the place, and twenty of the women of Rodel came and met them and danced a reel before them, so glad were they to see them. By the time the year was out,—twelve months from that day, these twenty women were weeping and wailing; their houses being unroofed and their fires quenched by the orders of the estate. I could not say who was to
blame, but before the year was out 150 fires were quenched. Some of the more capable of these tenants were sent to Bernera, and others were crowded into the Bays on the east side of Harris—small places that kept three families in comfort where now there are eight. Some of the cottars that were among these 150 were for a whole twelve months in the shielings before they were able to provide themselves with permanent residences. Others of them got, through the favour of Mrs Campbell of Strond, the site of a house upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves.

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