Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - Murdo Morrison

MURDO MORRISON, Crofter, Caolas-Scalpa (50)—examined.

17841. The Chairman.
—How many families are there at Caolas-Scalpa ?
—Over fifty.

17842. How many paying rent?
—About thirty, perhaps.

17843. Are you sent here by the fifty families?

17844. What have they asked you to say on their behalf?
—We do not complain of the factor or proprietor of the present day. The present proprietor has been of service to us ever since he got the estate, and I could tell some of his good deeds if you please. In the first place, with the assistance of the people of the place themselves, he made five miles of the road between here and Caolas-Scalpa, in order to enable the people conveniently to attend church. Then in hard years he gives abatement of rent, and he gives assistance in seed, as he has done this year. And, when the husband dies, he allows the widow to sit upon the place free until her family grow up and are able to pay it. But, with all the advantages which the like of Sir Edward Scott or Lord Dunmore or any other liberal Highland proprietor can give to the people, they will be hard off for it till they get more land. Perhaps it may be unpleasant to some present to hear of how South Harris was ruled in the past, but it was the oppression that prevailed there that has brought our place of North Harris into the impoverished condition in which it is now. Pabbay was cleared and put under sheep. The half of Bernera was cleared and put under sheep. The people that were there were sent along with us to North Harris and to Scalpa. Then the sea-ware rights which the people of North Harris had at that time were taken from them and given to the Scalpa people when it was crofted out. The patches of land we have in North Harris are only peat, and will not yield any crop, unless they are manured with sea-ware year by year, so that we are obliged to go for the sea-ware to the Isle of Skye and to the Lewis. I go in the spring tides to the Isle of Skye for sea-ware in a small boat of twenty feet keel. When we load that boat with sea-ware in Skye I am filled with fear and hope—the hope of reaching the shore if the weather holds, the fear of being drowned if it breaks. Whenever I can land safely with cargo I feel as pleased as other people would who might come laden with a cargo of gold—not because of the cargo and sea-ware, but because I have saved my life. When I arrive home by dusk, probably I may commence unloading the boat and putting the sea-ware up upon the land without waiting for shifting my clothes or even taking a particle of food. The next day is only a repetition of the previous day. There is no other way for it, and live. I am that way during the week of the spring tide. During the week of the neap tide I carry up on my back from the seashore, where I laid it, the sea-ware, that I brought home during the previous week, up the hill to the land. Our practice is to cultivate the ground every second week. The other week we gather sea-ware. This keeps us very much behind with our tillage. Some of my neighbours are tilling the ground to-day. It is impossible for us to have crops with such tillage as that, I have one of twenty-three lots in Caolas-Scalpa. My father had the eighth share of it, and the rent in my father's time was £16,—£2 each. The rent is between £60 and £80 to-day, and probably close upon £100 if you include taxes. There are seven cottars getting a share out of the small lot that I possess. Neither proprietor nor factor compels me to give him a bit of land, but the fear of a black eye perhaps before this time next year compels me to do so. A cottar here and a cottar there comes to ask me for a bit of land, and I must do it, otherwise how could they live? It is the kindness of those who have bits of land that keeps these people alive. So that any amount of injustice can be done in these remote places without people in high estate or the Government of the country being much the wiser for it. I remember, in the time of the wars of Boney, hearing from my father and grandfather how soldiers were drafted out from Harris. No doubt the same occurred in other places. There might not be murders, and there might not be thefts, but people might get ill-usage all the while I remember their telling me of four so drafted from the macher down which they commenced to clear to make room for sheep,—four who fought at the battle of Waterloo. Three fell on the field, and one of them died in hospital afterwards. Instead of the widows of these men being looked after, they were driven to the wild woods of Canada, and the lands they possessed were placed under sheep. That was the justice meted out to them.

17845. Have you any later instances of injustice to mention to us?
—I know that what has brought the country to its impoverished condition is what happened in my own time,—the clearing away of the whole country and placing it under sheep. That was the great cause of it all, and everybody knows it. Our taxes are high, but of all the taxes the one we complain most of is the road assessment. My father paid road money, and I paid it after him, but until Sir Edward Scott made this bit of high road perhaps I might not step upon a bit of made road once in every ten years. The population of this estate is upon the east shore, and when one of us has to transact business it is where the people congregate. If I go the Rodel direction there is not a mile of road in the quarter. There are nine or ten dangerous rivers to cross without a bridge upon one of them, and children have to go to school and people have to go to church, and that not without danger from the want of bridges upon these rivers. People were drowned in these rivers of old times, and a companion of my own was swept away by the stream when he was going to school, and never a bridge was placed upon the river till Sir Edward Scott made the road recently.

17846. Have these fifty families in Caolas-Scalpa all grown up on the land there?
—No, they do not belong to the place. The original inhabitants of the place were sent to America, and when Pabbay, Bernera, and these places were cleared, the people were sent out upon us.

17847. How long is that ago ?
—About forty years ago.

17848. Was it at the time the twenty-three lots were made?
—Before the time the twenty-three lots were made, but it was at that time that two or three squatted upon the same place.

17849. Is there any sea-ware on the shores of Caolas-Scalpa ?
—The sea-ware privilege we had was taken from us. When Scalpa was under a grazier we had the privilege of cutting sea-ware on the shore of the island.

17850. Have you no sea-ware upon your own shore?
—Not the 100th part of what is required.

17851. Is there no sea-ware round the island of Harris sufficient without going to Skye for sea-ware ?
—No. There is plenty in the Sound of Harris, but it is quite as easy for us to go to Skye as to go to that shore and to the islands in the Sound.

17852. And if you had more land, you would require to go still oftener to Skye for sea-weed ?
—No, we could not get more land without clearing away some of the people, and that would give more sea-ware room for us as well as more land room for us.

17853. Would there be less land under crop if these people were cleared away ?
—No, there would be quite as much land under crop, but there would be more sea-ware all the same. The cottars just now who get small patches of land are a burden upon the sea-ware. They will just before my eyes go and cut that sea-ware without leave asked.

17854. If the cottars were away, you would want sea-ware to manure the land that the cottars now manure, would you not ?

17855. If some of these people were to be sent away, where should they be sent to ?
—To the places that are now under sheep throughout the estate.

17856. Is there sea-ware on these places?
—There are lands laid waste there that could yield crop three successive years without manure. My land requires manure every year.

17857. But at the end of the three years, would they not then require to begin manuring ?
—There is plenty of drift ware coming ashore upon the beaches, and they would cart it up with their own horse and cart.

17858. Why don't you do that just now instead of going to Skye?
—It does not come ashore where we are. It is upon the west side of the island that the drift weed comes ashore. With us we have an exposed shore, and unless we put our cut ware on shore above high water mark it is washed away.

17859. Do you pay road assessment for repairs or only for new roads?
—For the repair of roads. We do not see new roads being gone on with except the small bit that Sir Edward Scott made.

17860. The mails come over the main road; and are not you getting some advantage from that?
—Yes; that indeed is the only advantage poor people here get from the main road.

17861. Would you be willing to pay a higher rate of assessment in order to construct new roads ?
—No, I think I pay quite enough already to make new roads and to keep up the old ones. Poor people cannot pay for everything.

17862. But you do not intend to say that the road assessment is mismanaged, do you ?
—No. What I mean is that there are plenty of places throughout the country where roads ought to be, and no roads are there, and there are rivers which ought to be spanned by bridges where there are no bridges.

17863. But how could you make these roads and bridges if people refuse to be taxed for them ?
—Well, it is a matter of surprise that road assessments are levied, and the roads are made not in the most convenient places for the people. In this country roads are made in the most convenient places for the tacksmen, but not for the comfort of the people. Where you find the poor people in this country, nobody thinks of putting a high road there.

17864. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—If the surplus people were removed from Caolas-Scalpa, would the mode of cultivation not be improved ?
—The tillage could not be improved, but the people who would remain would be better off. It is not what is properly called arable land.

17865. Are they not obliged to crop the same land over and over again every year?
—That is the case. Our land is cropped continually every year.

17866. So they cannot at present leave out any of it under grass?
—Not the breadth of the sail of a boat that could be cultivated.

17867. Suppose the land was relieved of a proportion of its population, and part of the land laid out in grass, would they use as much sea-ware as they do now ?

17868. They do not require to put manure upon the grass ?

17869. You have mentioned the cases of four widows that your father spoke about. Can you give us the names of the four widows whose husbands were killed at Waterloo or died of their wounds ?
—Three of the men were James M'Leod, Malcolm Morrison, and Angus M'Gillespie.

17870. Do you know from what place the widows were removed ?

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