Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - Kenneth Macdonald

KENNETH MACDONALD, Scaristavore, Factor for North Harris (70) re-examined.

17928. The Chairman.
—Have you any statement to make ?
—Well, I have been listening to some of the remarks made here to-day ; and particular stress was laid upon the suitability of some of the west side for farms to be given out to small tenants. In the year 1847 Captain Sitwell thought it would be a grand idea to cut up all the large farms and give portions of them to small tenants. This was experimented on in the year 1847 or 1848, and three townships were taken from the farm of Luscantire, and the very best and most comfortable tenantry were selected from all parts of Harris to occupy those three townships. They did stock them fully. In the year 1847 one of those new townships—Borvore —was ruined, and had to yield. Then Captain Sitwell, who had this idea in his head, said, ' We will carry on the other two townships.' They were carried on, but in the year 1853 they had to succumb, and were left all poor men. They came there quite comfortable,—as some may be here to-day,—and left it poor. So that even if these parts of Harris were partitioned I should not be very sanguine of the consequences, seeing by experience what happened to those three townships that were selected. That was during Lord Dunmore's minority. Another remark I may make with regard to the evidence of John M'Leod. He said his brother was forced to leave Harris. Nothing of the kind. Allan M'Leod was one of the best tenants we had—never failing into arrears. He left of his own free will, and he went to Australia, and now goes to church in his carriage. He was a most industrious man, and a man who never was in arrears. I should say that, even supposing this idea were granted, and that the people got the laud they asked for, in twenty years hence these localities which might be set apart for them would be just as congested as the localities are now; and simply for this reason, because they never hive off They never leave, and as a natural consequence when they do not hive off they must become congested. On any other part of the evidence I do not think I have any further remarks to make.

17929. This experiment of Captain Sitwell was an interesting one, and I should like to hear more about it. These township lands, to which the people were taken, had, I presume, no houses upon them, and the people had to build for themselves ?
—They all built houses for themselves, and they were taken off the farm of Luscantire.

17930. And the people were selected throughout the place?
—Yes, the most comfortable of the lots were made from £ 8 to £13 each.

17931. Was there any arable land in these lots ?
—It was all arable land, such as it is.

17932. Was there no hill pasture ?
—Yes, they had the whole hill pasture.

17933. What stock had they ?
—I cannot answer that question. I think the summing of the place was four cows with their followers, and twenty sheep, if I remember well.

17934. And they paid £8 to £13 ?
—They paid £8 to £13, but they had a large amount of arable land. They had the whole of these four townships—what is called the macher in Harris.

17935. And how was it they came to poverty?
—Because they could not make the lands to pay them. That was the simple reason.

17936. You mean that they had not stock enough to pay a rent of £13 ?
—They had stock enough. Times might not have been so good as they are now, but they put plenty stock on the lands every one of them.

17937. And did they turn the land?
—Yes, they did.

17938. And crop it ?
—Crop it.

17939. What extent of crop had they been raising?
—Well, I cannot tell We are talking about sea-ware sometimes. We have what we call drift sea-ware which comes ashore, but unfortunately it comes in the end of April and beginning of May, when it is of little or no use whatever. If we could get it in winter then it would be of use, but it comes so very late in the season that it is of no use. Just now, between the beginning of May and the end of July it comes largely to the shore. There is an annual cast of sea-ware they call bracir.

17940. And you think these new townships were not able to gather sufficient sea-ware to manure.their land properly?
—Such is my idea. I can see no other reason why they came so very soon to grief. In 1851 one township was ruined, and in 1853 other two had to succumb.

17941. What became of these townships?
—Some of them went to Australia; others were planted through the whole estate.

17942. Are any of them alive to this day?
—Yes, there are.

17943. Are any of them here to-day ?
—I am not at all sure but there may be.

17944. Do you think the same state of things would happen again if people were taken to the lands on the other side,—do you think they would succeed ?
—I should be afraid, considering the former experience. I do not see why they should succeed now more than they did then.

17945. Mr Cameron.
—I suppose you will admit that this system of farming did succeed in former times ?
—It did succeed. In former times we had very much greater returns from the land than we have now. The climate is so changed.

17946. But that would be a reason for increasing the holdings and reducing the rent ?
—Yes, and the land on the west side is not alluvial soil—it is pure sand,—and we have such a continuation of rain in the winter that it drives the whole sap out of it.

17947. Then you attribute the failure more to the peculiar character of the place than to the fact that the holdings were too small?
—Yes, I should say so. It is from the nature of the locality and the nature of the soil. If you increased their holdings three times, I do not think they
would do.

17948. But if the arable land was good, and if a man were able to graze in summer four cows and followers and twenty sheep, do you not think he might do very well on that quantity of land ?
—Providing the land were good, he certainly ought to.

17949. Where were the two townships that succumbed in 1853?
—They were all close together,

17950. How many families were on these crofts that were started as an experiment ?
—I cannot tell. There would be, I think, close upon twenty families in the three townships.

17951. What do you mean by their having succumbed ?
—Because they got so poor that they had nothing.

17952. What happened to them ?
—Some emigrated, and some were placed in other localities throughout the country.

17953. Were they very far back in arrears ?
—So far back that they had to sell everything they had. In fact, they became bankrupt.

17954. You heard the evidence given by Mr Mackenzie about the island of Taransay, Do you consider the land there is of good quality,
—I remember Taransay when it was under tenantry.

17955. If it were put under tenantry again do you think they would be likely to succumb, or would they succeed ?
—That would depend entirely upon what the rent was.

17956. But at the rent which Mr Mackenzie stated he thought might be obtained, £200 a year ?
—Well, if the proprietor chooses to lose a part of his rent; he gets more than that for Taransay now.

17957. I understand for Taransay the present rent is £190?
—The present rent is £210.

17958. Then, according to that, the proprietor can only lose £ 10 if Mr Mackenzie is right, and by putting two more crofters upon it he would not lose anything ?
—I should not at all be sanguine as to whether the tenantry of Taransay could pay even £200.

17959. I want you to compare for our information, with your experience, the land of Taransay with the land of this other place where the experiment was a failure ?
—It is very much the same. The middle of Taransay is the very same kind of ground sand. The extreme north end perhaps, is a little better, but it is all those little lazy beds,—bits here and there.

17960. But are not very fine crops grown along the west coast of the Long Island ?
—Sometimes they are, but that entirely depends on the weather. If we have a dry summer we have nothing because the crops are perfectly parched up, and if we have a wet summer then we have good here, but we can grow nothing else than poor small black oats.

17961. Is sand not very suitable for the cultivation of the potato?
—Well, sometimes we get very good potatoes, but that also depends on the year. If it is a dry year our potatoes will go the same as the crops, but if we have a wet summer we will raise good bere and good potatoes, but nothing but small black oats.

17962. What is your opinion as to the financial condition of the crofters ? Do you think many of them or any of them are in position to take larger holdings—supposing these could be provided for them ?
—Well, on some parts of North Harris there are a good many who could, but in those congested localities I fear they are not in a position to take more land. For instance, at Scarp, I do not see how these people can by any possibility think of stocking, because there are some of them five years in arrears, and not only that, but the proprietor is obliged to give them seed, oats, potatoes, and barley, and sometimes a bull, but still they are sunk in arrears, and giving them charity notwithstanding.

17963. Then do you think there would be as many people able to take land as there is land capable of being given to them in Harris ?
—Well, I do not see where the lands are to be given them in North Harris.

17964. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you know the whole particulars of Captain Sitwell's experiments?
—Yes, for I was assistant factor at the time.

17965. Don't you think the real reason of the thing failing was bad prices ?
—Partly, unmistakably; but these bad prices may come always.

17966. No doubt they may ?
—If there was a guarantee for good prices, possibly enough we could get the people through; but who is to give this guarantee of good prices and good seasons

17967. But according to your own statement, the first township that succumbed was only three years in possession of the place. Now, if they were in comfortable circumstances when they entered, three years was a very short time to give up a croft if there were no exceptional cause ?
—I could see no exceptional cause,—simply that they could not get the rent paid, and were obliged to sell the stock.

17968. Did the proprietor give them houses ?
—No, not he.

17969. Did he give them any help at all ?
—Not that I am aware of.

17970. Do you not think that was a very serious inroad upon the little capital they had—that they should have to go and build their houses ?
—Well, it might be, but I do not think the inroad would be very great, because they all had houses, and building up the walls of a thatched house did not cost much, and they had the roofs of their former houses,—so I do not see that could be a very serious part of the affair.

17971. Did they pay their rents punctually?
—For the first year they did, but not for the second or third. Some of them, I think, were £40 if not more in arrears.

17972. Was it not pressure, so far as you are aware, for paying up their arrears, that made them succumb ?
—Well, when the proprietor saw he was gaining nothing, he had to sell a part of the stock to enable him to get something in the shape of rent.

17973. Then the proprietor only gave the poor people three years chance after the first let ?
—What could he do ? They had no stock.

17974. You are now factor for North Harris?

17975. It is fair you should be allowed to state what has been done on the estate. Does Sir Edward Scott derive anything from the estate since he got it ?
—I am sorry to say he puts a great deal more out of his pocket The whole rental is £780, and some years he spends £6000.

17976. What is Sir Edward Scott entered in the valuation roll for the forest in his own occupation.
—£1350 for the deer forest.

17977. If you add the £780 of rental that is about £2000, and some years he spends £6000 ?

17978. Does that give a good deal of employment to the people ?
—It must.

17979. Are most of those employed inhabitants of North Harris?
—They are, and we make no distinction between crofters and cottars. The cottars get employment as well as the crofters.

17980. What wages do you allow for an able-bodied man?
—2s. 6d. sometimes; and sometimes 3s. In my first recollection it was 9d. and 1s.

17981. Is there any employment given to females?
—Yes, we employ women to work at peats and among the cattle, and at the castle and so on. Another remark I have to make is that Mr Mackenzie talked about the Countess Dowager of Dunmore, and Mrs Thomas encouraging webmaking. Now, the Countess Dowager was manufacturing webs before Mrs Captain Thomas was known in this part of the world.

17982. You reside in South Harris?

17983. It is a fact that there was once a very large population residing at Scarista-veg and all about the place now called Northtown ?
—Not in Northtown in my day; but in Scarista-veg, and Mid Borv, and Little Borv, and Sheilabost, and Craigo, there were tenants in my day.

17984. Were they not so industrious as to cultivate the land almost up to the mountain top ?
—Yes, and they were very comfortable tenants.

17985. Was it usual, in old times, to have the church in the midst or very near where the people were ?

17986. How many families are within six or seven miles of the parish church of Harris?
—Not very many.

17987. Are there ten families?
—Oh yes, ten and more. All the old people are within seven miles, and we have a great many more than ten even on our west side. I think I have nine cottars upon my own farm.

17988. And how many are upon Scarista-veg?
—I am not sure, but there is one.

17989. And on the glebe?
—I believe there are two on the glebe.

17990. Where are the others you refer to?
—On Mid and Little Borv.

17991. How many miles will you go now, coming from Obbe in Harris, before you meet a house after passing a place where there is a little shop at a bridge ?
—Two miles, and then not a quarter-mile before I meet the Scarista people.

17992. How many houses will you see from the public road, from the time you pass this bridge until you come to Scarista-veg?
—There are three at Nishishee, which is within two miles; there is one at Scarista veg—that is the grieve; two on the Glebe; and five at Scarista-vore, at
the march, and then there is one between that and my house—that is twelve.

17993. How many miles are there from the bridge to your house?
—Less than seven miles.

17994. In coming from Scarista-vore to Tarbert here, you see a great number of funeral cairns ?

17995. I believe they may be counted by hundreds?

17996. Who erected those cairns?
—It is supposed to be people going to funerals. It is an old superstition. They built the cairns in memory of the parties whom they were going to bury, and a party was left there to make up a cairn for this man and a cairn for the other.

17997. Do those cairns not show there was a very large population about there once?
—I do not see how they can, because in my early recollection there were none of them.

17998. But must they not have been of old?
—No, they are all of very recent origin,—perhaps one of them has been made up to-day.

17999. These are not old cairns?

18000. After you leave Luscantire to come into Tarbert how many miles is it ?
—Six miles.

18001. How many houses are there on that road?
—No house at all. It is not a place for a Christian to build in between the head of the sand of Luscantire and Tarbert.

18002. When you are coming from Luscantire, are there not a great many remains of old houses ?
—Yes, on the opposite side at Shellabost and Craigo.

18003. Are you a native of this part of Harris?
—No, I am from the mainland.

18004. How long have you been here?
—I have been fifty-one years.

18005. Speaking from your earliest recollection, will you give your opinion as to the general condition of the people ?
—I cannot see how they could be worse off than they were. Of course in those congested localities we must always have distress, but otherwise, I see a material difference in the clothing of the people and their general appearance. There is a great difference between what they were in my first recollection and to-day. Better—I should say very much.

18006. Do you consider it better, when you yourself make all your own cloth?
—Why not?

18007. Why do you stick to your own cloth when you find all the other people do not make their own clothing ?
—Because if they do not choose to stick to their own cloth, it is because they want something finer and more expensive. They could make cloth as well, if not better, than any other people in Scotland, and they make a vast deal of money by that cloth; but sometimes they consider it not fine enough for themselves,
and all the other grand things they get cannot be got without money.

18008. Many of them have told us that if they had sheep, and could afford to shear them regularly, they would prefer their own home made clothing. Is this consistent with your observation ?
—That certainly is not, because there is not a township in North Harris but that has sheep enough to make clothes for themselves. I could tell you the enormous stock of sheep they have. They could manufacture their own clothes, and have plenty wool to do it. In the island of Scarp there are 507 sheep, and how is it possible for people to say they could not get wool enough to manufacture their own clothing, when there are 500 head of sheep on the island among sixteen crofters.

18009. Where did you get these numbers?
—I took them the other day.

18010. Did you count them yourself?
—No, but the ground officer counted them.

18011. It has been given in evidence to-day by Norman Macdonald, of Scarp, that the summing is 400, but that he never saw that number on the island ?
—There are these on the island this very day.

18012. Are you counting hoggs?
—Yes. The summing for the island is 320, and there is more than the summing to-day. They are actually on it.

18013. Give us the figures for the island of Scarp altogether ?
—Seventythree cattle.

18014. What is the summing?
—We do not go very minutely into the summing of the cattle.

18015. You will admit, no doubt, the very serious state of Scarp as shown by its state of congestion. Are you prepared to submit now what is, in your opinion, the best remedy for it?
—The only remedy I can possibly see is emigration. Suppose, now, more lands were given ; in ten or fifteen years those places would be as congested as the other localities are now, because they never hive off, and the only remedy I see is emigration.

18016. But if they are left as they are, and supposing you do emigrate them, the same thing will occur in fifteen years ?
—That is possible, but I verily believe that now, as education is advancing, that will be the first means of causing the young people to leave and go where they can better themselves. I think that will be the first move in the right direction.

18017. Some delegates have told us that if they got larger crofts they would be prepared to make it illegal to subdivide. Do you think it could be done ?
—Well, we have been trying that, but with no effect. There are sixteen tenants in Scarp on the rent roll, but without leave asked or obtained, the father gives his son a bit of the croft, and the brother gives his brother a bit of the croft, entirely against the rules of the estate. The same thing will occur again—not the least doubt of it.

18018. And you are not able to suggest anything but emigration?
—I certainly am not. That is what I consider the only remedy to drive away from Harris the chronic distress that every year occurs in our congested country.

18019. Is the best part of Harris in the hands of crofters?
—Certainly not; I will not say that.

18020. And it is in the hands of a very few people ?
—Very few people.

18021. The Chairman.
—What are the names of the three townships that were established as an experiment ?
—Big Borv, Middle Borv, and Little Borv.

18022. Are they now in Luscantire ?
—No, I have a part, and another tacksman has Little Borv.

18023. Sheriff Nicolson
—Are there any men in the Naval Reserve from Harris ?
—Yes, but I cannot give the numbers.

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