Tarbert, Harris, 13 June 1883 - Ronald Macdonald

RONALD MACDONALD, Taransay (48)—examined.

18095. The Chairman.
—You are brother of the tacksman of Taransay?

18096. Have you any statement to make to us in reference to your brother's farm ?
—I don't think that we call upon the services of these men except when we have work to do of such a kind that it needs more strength of hand than we can supply out of our own hired servants, and when we have to call upon any one of them, if the head of the family or the strong one is not able to reply to the call, we have just to take the one that is handy and ready, even though the weakest. Whenever they are working they feed along with our own servants ; and, with scarcely any exception, if they get an opportunity of fishing or of earning money elsewhere, we will be quite willing to take the services of the weaker member of the family, so as not to prejudice the case of the older and stronger in any way whatever. Last autumn, to the best of my recollection, the whole of our crops were cut with the scythe. I do not think that we called upon a man of the place to do any work beyond ferrying cattle, casting peats, and digging potatoes. In respect of kindness to the people in the event of their being in want, we would not have for ourselves without giving it to them ; and in so far as milk is concerned, I am perfectly able to testify that choppins of warm milk from the cow are sent to the weak and sickly, often without one penny being ever asked for it. I am not aware that any of them ever came in want and asked for anything that was within our house without them getting a share of it. The reason why the cow and the sheep were taken from them I am unable to speak of. The tacksman is ready to give evidence if the question is put to him. So far as the readjustment of the land question is concerned, I would personally be very willing to see it adjusted upon equitable terms towards the poor. I have myself taken their part to my own loss, as they know. But so far as the land that is at present in the possession of the tacksmen of Harris is concerned, I am convinced that the present rent of it is so heavy that crofters would be quite unable to pay that amount for it. I believe that when the information you are now collecting among the people of these places is put together, prepared, and laid before Parliament, as is meet, it is a very desirable thing that there should be a land act to adjust equitably the relations between landlord and tenant and tacksman, and that competent men, sworn valuators, should be appointed to value the land, and where necessary to reduce the rent, and where necessary to increase it. And as former evidence has been led to the effect that in any readjustment that might be made, there should be only one family upon each croft, even supposing it were done, such is the natural increase of the population that in a very short time things would be just as they are—one croft subdivided among three or four families,—and just as I considered it desirable that there should be a land act that would adjust equitably the land question by fixing a reasonable rent,—a rent reasonable to both landlord and tenant, —I also consider another act, and recommend it, under which an inquiry should be made not only into the circumstances of the people, but into the capabilities of the land, with a view to set up mills and factories in order to manufacture the produce of the land, so that what the land might yield could be manufactured and utilised within the land itself, and so provide work for those people for whom no land can be provided. The people might then have their choice either of getting suitable work here in that, way, or to those who prefer it, there should be a scheme to enable them to emigrate elsewhere if they so desired. If there should be such an act that would inquire into the circumstances of the people both in town and country, and inquire into the relationship between master and servant, and the way the one uses the other, I believe there would be fewer inmates of our poorhouses and police offices,

18097. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is it a fact that none of the families inhabiting Taransay, except the tacksman's, have any cows ?
—So far as I am aware, they have not any just now.

18098. Do you consider that they are sufficiently supplied with milk for children from your brother's house ?
—If they require milk for sickness, we are ready to supply it gratis.

18099. Do not healthy ones require it also?
—We supply it when they are delicate, both children and grown-up people.

18100. Do you think children can be brought up healthily without milk ?
—I cannot say either young or old can be brought up so healthily without as with it.

18101. Was the statement which the previous witness made correct as to the days they had to work for your brother,—sixty days ?
—As far as I am aware, it is three or four days they make in the way of ferrying, and a week at peats and about a fortnight or twenty days at taking up the potatoes, and a very few days, if any, at cutting corn.

18102. Does that employment seriously interfere with their fishing and other employment?

18103. What is the rent of Taransay?
—I am not certain, but so far as I am aware it is over £200,—£220.

18104. Do you know what it was before, when there were crofters there ?
—It was not so much, and the former rent was £250,—a rent we never got out of the island, though we had been a very sober family.

18105. Does your brother's stock consist of both cattle and sheep?
—And horses.

18106. You breed horses?
—We do.

18107. Mr Cameron.
—Have you been in the room all to-day?—Yes.

18108. Have you heard the evidence given by the various delegates of the crofters?

18109. You heard the evidence given by the crofters as to their poverty and general want of comfort ?

18110. Do you believe that those statements are true?
—Well, I believe they are. I attribute the whole of that to the increase of the population.

18111. Have you heard any of the crofters to-day complain that their rents are excessive ?
—I do not think I have.

18112. You have not heard any crofter, under these circumstances of extreme poverty and want of comfort, ask any thing in the shape of a sworn valuation of rent ?
—No, so far as I remember, I did not.

18113. Then do I understand that your remedy for the grievances complained of by the crofters is that there should be sworn valuators to indicate what should be paid by the great tacksmen to the landlord ?
—I do so, because I consider the tacksmen are paying the highest rent, and that they have been paying a rent that the crofters could not get out of their farms.

18114. But do you consider that the grievances felt by the big tacksmen are in any way comparable to those felt by the crofters?
—Well, I do not, if it be of the least comfort to them.

18115. Do you think it natural or fair that the big tacksmen should ask such a strong measure from Government or Parliament, while the crofters, who are admittedly suffering great hardships, and labour under considerable grievances, have not to-day asked any thing of that kind?
—We do not blame the proprietors for the highness of the farm rents; we have to blame themselves, because the one is going over the other and giving a higher offer. When a farm is advertised they will over-bid each other, and when they are ruined they must give up their farm, and then the proprietor may lose a good deal by arrears, unless he recovers it out of the stock on the farm. If a land act were passed in such a way that there were so many Commissioners sworn on the side of the inhabitants, and so many on the side of the proprietor, and a judge between them, so that if there was a farm below its proper rental they could put it up in favour of the proprietor, and if it were above its proper rental they could take it down. But that the proprietor would have the option of taking any tenant who might apply.

18116. But why do you think that privilege, and that rather extraordinary step, should be taken in favour of the tacksmen, whereas you admit that to-day the crofters have not asked it for themselves ?
—The small tenants would not refuse it if it were offered to them. I do not want it for the big tacksmen any more than for the other people. I should like to get the same law for the poor and for the rich.

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