Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - Norman Mcdonald

NORMAN M'DONALD, Crofter and Fisherman, Island of Scarp (50)—examined.

17715. The Chairman.
—How many families are there in Scarp?
—About forty.

17716. Do they all hold land?
—There are sixteen names entered in the rent roll, and they have it split up into patches among one another, so that it has reduced them all to poverty.

17717. Have the whole of the forty some of these patches?
—No, there are some of them without even a patch.

17718. Were you delegated to come here by these forty families ?
—Yes, by the whole of them.

17719. You have a paper to present on behalf of the people of Scarp?

17720. Who put the paper together?
—Some of the people of the place, to explain the condition of them.

17721. Was it read to the whole of them ?
—It was read in the presence of those who were connected with its composition.

17722. Not in the presence of all ?
—All the people were not about when it was being read.

17723. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Your paper is as follows:
—Statements of the Scarp people.
—In the time of our forefathers we had several privileges which are now deprived from us, and for the want of which our present grievances greatly tend. The isle of Scarp was formerly in the possession of eight farmers, who could sustain themselves with comfort. They were allowed a wide range of hill pasture on the mainland opposite. Thither they sent their cattle in summer, and getting the island thus clear managed to bring most of the arable land under cultivation. About sixty years previous to this, thirteen villages, extending from the head of Loch Resort, and scattered along the west coast to Bunamhuin Eadara, were cleared of their inhabitants, and taken possession of by a certain tacksman, named Alexander Macrae. He deprived us of the hill pasture, then, setting apart a piece of bogsy moor across the Harris border, to which heifers only were to be sent. When Lord Dunmore owned North Harris, he divided Scarp, seventeen years since, into sixteen crofts, which were further divided by the people among their families and friends. The number of people has greatly increased. About 200 souls live on the isle to-day. There are forty families. This increase, along with the consequent overcrowding on one another, the scantiness of land, and its inadequacy to maintain the people, have mostly led to the present poor circumstances. It may be said, for all the land yields, that the people wholly depend on the sea, and that in a manner specially precarious, owing to the rough coasts. We pay taxes for highway and doctor along with school and poor rates. The rent added to this comes up to £6, which we think too high. A distance of moor six miles long lies between this and Amhuinsuidhe, without any road made through it. We all bear testimony to the exceeding generosity of Sir Edward towards the people of the island. In our opinion, the best remedy is to get more land, and that most of the people be transferred from the island to work thereon.'

Who has now got the land that was taken from the people by a man of the name of Alexander Macrae?
—Sir Edward Scott has it.

17724. Is it a part of the forest ?
—Yes, it is a part of the forest now.

17725. Has the loss of that land been very prejudicial to the island ever since ?
—Undoubtedly it was. During the time of my ancestors, when the people had that pasture, they were in the habit of sending their horses and their cattle and sheep across to these summer grazings during the whole time the seed was in the ground. They had horses at the time.

17726. Was any compensation or reduction of rent given for the reduction of these pastures ?
—No, there was no abatement of rent; and at the present day it is higher than it was in the time of my ancestors.

17727. It is stated that the average rent at the present time is about £6, with taxes. What was the average rent when it was under the original eight crofters ?
—I know the rent my father paid. He did not pay direct to the proprietor, but to the tacksman of the place. He paid £3, 10s. to the tacksman for the land that now I pay for, but there were no taxes at that time as there are now.

17728. What tacksman are you referring to, to whom your father paid rent?
—Alexander Macrae, Huishinish.

17729. You state in your paper, that thirteen small villages were all cleared of inhabitants and taken possession of. Who is in possession of the land of these thirteen small villages that are referred to ?
—It is all part of the forest now.

17730. You say that the people want more land. Have they any idea where they would like to get the land for the surplus population ?
—There is plenty of land vacant through the country,—forest land,—and the best part of the land.

17731. Will you indicate any place by a name that would be the most suitable for them?
—I consider each of these thirteen townships about equally suitable, where people might make a comfortable livelihood out of it through the labour of their own hands.

17732. Is there a considerable part of those thirteen townships' land that was at one time under cultivation ?
—Yes there was arable land there. If these thirteen or fourteen townships were peopled by crofters, it would make forty families quite comfortable, but it is all in forest now.

17733. You speak of the distance of forest—six miles long—lying beyond this and Island Suay, without any road made through it. What object have you in going to island Suay
—We have to take all our provisions during the winter from this place here in Tarbert, and the sea is wild, and very often we have to turn into Loch Losebay through stress of weather, and then to carry these provisions upon our backs through the moor to the sound of Scarp, and very often at the sound of Scarp we are not able to cross, but have to remain there. We complaim of the want of a road. At the present the road extends as far as island Suay; and then there are six miles of moor from that to the sound of Scarp, and if there was a road there it would be even upon our backs, far easier to carry our provisions.

17734 Where does the doctor reside?
—At Tarbert.

17735. What tax is put upon you for the doctor?

17736. Is he obliged to attend at Scarp?
—Yes, he is bound to go, but we don't often bother him. Sometimes he is not there from one year's end to another. Sometimes he may be called once or twice a year to the place.

17737. Do you give him a fee over and above?
—No. The half-crown covers his whole charge. Our practice is, if the weather allows, to go for him to the West Loch Tarbert with a boat and bring him to our place, and lift him back again here. If the weather does not permit that, he either walks or drives to island Suay, but he makes no charge beyond the half-crown.

17738. Whether would you prefer to pay the doctor when you want him, or pay this half-crown a year?
—I don't think it would be considered a hardship for any one that could manage it at all to pay the half-crown for the doctor. I would prefer to pay the half-crown, though I should never require his services at all, rather than make the other arrangement.

17739. Is there any work in the island that is given by the proprietor?
—No, not in the island.

17740. Has he been in the habit of giving employment or labour on other parts of the estate to which the people of the island might go ?
—Works are carried on at his expense at island Suay, but we follow the fishing. Sometimes it is successful, and sometimes not.

17741. Have the people of the island made any formal application to the proprietor or his factor in reference to this overcrowding of the island ?
—We never laid the matter formally before the proprietor, but we spoke of it several times to the factor, and the reply we got was to go to America; and to make a journey to a strange land does not suit a poor man with a weak family and an empty hand. It would be as well for him to remain poor in the place where he was as to undertake such a journey.

17742. Is that your own position?
—That is a description of my own condition, I have little means. I have some stock—as much as my place can support.

17743. Are you aware that the people in the island are much in arrear of rent or in any arrear?
—There are some of them more in arrears than others.

17744. Are there any of them clear?
—There are four or five of them that are only one year in arrear—the rest more.

17745. Mr Cameron.
—This grazing on the main island was taken from the people, I understand, sixty years ago ?
—It is over sixty.

17746. And it was taken then by a tacksman named Alexander Macrae?
—Yes, it was; but he got that along with a great deal more that is now forest. He had the whole of what is now forest.

17747. That was not a forest at the time, then?
—No; it was in sheep then.

17748. Have you ever considered what the people of Scarp would be willing to pay if their grazings were restored to them ?
—We did not consider that matter mentioned in the least.

17749. Did the grazings you mention extend over the whole that is now forest, or only over a portion ?
—No, it did not cover by any means the whole range of the forest. There were fences, and the line of these fences can be traced to the present day.

17750. Do you consider that they would be able to pay for these grazings anything like the rent that is paid now or for which they are down in the valuation roll ?
—All I know is that the island cannot support its present population. It is more a pound or a fank than a habitation for them; but if it were portioned out among the sixteen families that originally held it, with the old grazing rights restored to them that the island formerly possessed, they would be able to make a living.

17751. Do you consider that would involve any loss of rent to the proprietor?
—I don't think it would be much actual loss to the proprietor, but he might feel the encroachment upon his forest.

17752. Was the present proprietor in any way to blame for the withdrawal of this hill pasture more than sixty years ago ?
—It was not his act at all. It was done long before his time.

17753. And it was not Lord Dunmore's act either?
—Well, our grazing privileges were taken away from us in one Macleod's time, but it was Lord Dunmore who converted the grazings into forest.

17754. If the people lost the grazings, it would not matter, I suppose, whether these were converted into a deer forest, or whether they were kept under sheep by Mr Alexander Macrae ?
—Well, of course, as far as we were concerned, it mattered nothing when we lost it ourselves.

17755. It is stated here that the sixteen crofts into which Lord Dunmore divided the island were further increased by the people dividing it still more among their families and friends ?
—That is so. The father shared it with the son, and the brother shared with the brother.

17756. So that the increase of the population arose from their own act ?

17757. Do you think it fair that the present proprietor, who was not born when these grievances were created, should suffer from circumstances that arose out of an act of the people ?
—I cannot give a decided opinion upon that question, but of one thing I am certain, that the island is over-peopled; and what with cutting peats, and what with one thing and another, the overcrowding has brought the present population,to a state of poverty.

17758. The Chairman.
—What stock do you yourself keep ?
—Two cows, and a calf and fifteen sheep.

17759. And you pay £6 of rent and rates ?
—My two brothers are along with me in the lot, though it is my name that is entered in the rent roll.

17760. What stock do they keep besides what you have yourself?
—They can only keep between them as much as I have.

17761. What is the total stock upon that croft for which about £ 6 is paid?
—Three milk cows and two stirks. We have in addition forty-five sheep, but the croft can only carry thirty. The extra fifteen belong to my two brothers, and they pay to their neighbours for this overplus stock.

17762. What is the stock on the island ?
—I can tell the summing of it. I am not sure that I can give the actual stock. It could not maintain its summing. If they were not fed by provender purchased, they would die on the door steps. Our fathers settled it that the island could maintain 400 sheep and 64 milch cows without any young ones; but I remember the place for the last forty years, and it never had that amount of stock upon it at any one time.

17763. What is the rent of the island ?
—£80, bare rent.

17764. Are all the grown men in the island fishermen ?
—Yes, every one that can.

17765. Have they all shares in boats?
—They have only small boats for long lines and lobsters ; they have no herring boats.

17766. Where do they sell their lobsters ?
—In Tarbert chiefly.

17767. Are they always able to bring them up here in good time ?
—Not always.

17768. Where do they sell their cod and ling?
—It is a man in the island that buys both cod and lobsters.

17769. One of themselves ?

17770. What price does he give for ling and cod?
—We have very few cod, but the ling ranges from 8d. to 10d.

17771. When is the price fixed?
—At the commencement of the fishing each season.

17772. Do they get advances from the curer?
—The people are pretty far in that man's debt.

17773. Is it money or food that he supplies them with?
—It is meal chiefly that he supplies them with. The crops that are grown upon the island could not maintain its population for three months.

17774. What price is he charging for meal on credit now ?

17775. On credit ?
—If there is three or four month's credit, it is one shilling extra.

17776. Is there anything that can be done to improve their position in regard to fishing ?
—The fishing of late years has deteriorated sadly.

17777. How do you account for that?
—There have been three boats fishing ling for the last two months, and not one of them has fished 200 ling yet.

17778. If they had bigger boats, and went farther to sea, would they not be able to get better fishing ?
—The place is not suitable for heavy boats. The coast is very wild, and we can only use light boats. When we work at lobsters in winter, we have to launch the boats every morning, even supposing it were in frost or snow, and in launching them we have to wade through the surf up to the waist, and remain in that condition till night again. After all that is said and done, unless the people of the island of Scarp can get additional lands, there is no possible means of support for them. Their very life is in danger.

No comments:

Post a Comment