STATEMENT of Rev. ALEXANDER MACKINTOSH, C.C., Dalibrog,
DALIBROG, SOUTH UIST,
September 28, 1883.
I have held a charge in this district of South Uist for the last three years, and in the fulfilment of my duties have had every opportunity of becoming intimately acquainted with the circumstances of each individual in the district. I consider the smallness of the present holdings the chief cause of the existing state of matters as regards the crofters of South Uist. Owing to the removal of small tenants to make room for large farms or tacks, townships became overcrowded, and the extent of land originally estimated to support one family was made to be depended on by two or more families ; and this system of subdivision then introduced has been acted up to for a number of years. How those removals referred to were brought about is already sufficiently well known to your Commission. Of the crofters removed, many were, against their wishes, known and expressed, forcibly put on board emigrant vessels and transported to North America. Others, again, were given portions of the lands held by tenants in townships already sufficiently crowded ; and thus, by the carrying out of a cruel and shortsighted policy, both the families thus located and those amongst whom they were located were, in the course of a few years, reduced, from a state of comparative comfort to one of privation and distress. Portions of lands held in common by the tenants of townships for grazing or cropping purposes were, at the time of the said clearances, and have been in subsequent years, let to tenants removed from their holdings to make'room for large farms, and to others, while the rent paid by the original tenants remained the same, and remains so to this day. As instances of this I may mention the two townships of Dalibrog and Kilpheder, which have by such means been left practically without any common lands, while no reduction of rent has been made in consideration of the serious curtailing of their lands. The lands of North Lochboisdale, of which the two townships referred to were deprived, were first given to crofters removed from Frobost and elsewhere, and in a few years the rent of each tenant in North Lochboisdale was arbitrarily raised, and is now, and has been for a considerable number of years, excessive. Thus for the lands of North Lochboisdale two rents have for years been paid —one by the present and actual tenants, another by the tenants of Dalibrog and Kilpheder, who have for years been deprived of those lands. Within the last few years portions of land held in common by the crofters of Dalibrog, Kilpheder, Boisdale, and South Boisdale respectively, and by them reclaimed from moss and bog, were put under crop by order and for the benefit of the proprietor, and subseqently let to the highest bidder, while no abatement of rent or other compensation was made to those so deprived of land.
Even as late as the spring of this year, portions of crofts in the township of North Lochboisdale were, without legal warning or the consent of the tenants asked or obtained, put under crop and fenced by the proprietor's servants on behalf of their master. This practice of curtailing and placing tenants on lands without the consent of the tenants paying rent for such lands, or any compensation made, has been carried to a considerable extent in this district, and from its introduction, many years ago, dates the beginning of hardship for the tenants of South Uist
Our crofters do not so much complain that their rents have been arbitrarily raised—although of this, too, there are not a few instances—as that crofts and common grazings have been very considerably reduced in extent, and additional tenants placed upon them, while the old rents are still being paid, and rent also paid by the new tenants. I am decidedly of opinion, however, that the rent paid for much of the land held by the crofters is excessive, and that some of the land, if held in small portions, would be dear at any rent. It must also be remembered that' kelp-rents' are in many, if not in most cases, being paid, while no kelp is now being made. The ' kelp rent' was higher than the 'ready-money' rent; and, on the abandonment of kelp making, a reduction should have been made to those paying rent by kelp—a reduction promised by the late Colonel Gordon, as is well known to everyone in Uist.
The want of leases for crofts I regard as a very serious drawback to the small tenants. Not, indeed, that of late wholesale evictions have taken place ; but it is beyond question that threats of eviction have been made use of to exact services which could hardly have been exacted from tenants holding leases. Of such services exacted is labour under pain of eviction, and at unremunerative wages, in cultivating lands, and planting and lifting potatoes for the proprietor.
I may also mention that threats of eviction have been made use of to compel tenants to renounce their rights to certain portions of their holdings, for which no compensation or abatement of rent was made, and also to compel the owners of dogs to have them shot by the proprietor's servants, while such dogs were necessary to their owners for the protection of their crops from sheep and cattle.
A practice exists, or lately did exist here, of charging any arrears of rent standing against an out-going tenant against the incoming one—and of this several instances have occurred within my own knowledge. Another practice, equally unjust, is that of withholding from tenants, clear of all debt to the proprietor, wages earned in working on the estate, even although such tenants be in extremely poor circumstances, or in want of food. This has been done in many instances by the local factor, acting under the instructions of his superior.
To remedy the existing state of matters among our South Uist crofters I consider it necessary—
1. To enlarge the present holdings of the crofters, and to give to each tenant land for grazing and cropping according to his ability and requirements. Small holdings I consider unable to support a family, and consequently dear at any rent or at no rent at alL A range of bill pasture for sheep and cattle I consider absolutely necessary to the crofters, such pasture land to be held by the crofters of each township in common, and under competent management. I am of opinion that there is in Uist land available for and sufficient to meet the requirements of the crofters—lands formerly tenanted by crofters, and now farmed by tacksmen or by the proprietor—farms which need not necessarily exist, and which cannot exist in their present number and extent if the requirements of the crofters get proper consideration.
2. By valuation to fix fair rents, due consideration being given to the inferiority of the soil of the Outer Hebrides as compared with that of other countries.
3. By fixity of tenure or otherwise, to give to each tenant more than a mere rent-payer's interest in and right to the soil
4. To encourage small tenants to improve their holdings by draining, fencing, and trenching, and to grant compensation for all such improvements made.
5. To give to those among the crofters who are more adapted for fishing than agriculture, holdings in place9 suitable and convenient for sea-fishing, with lands sufficient to graze two cows and some sheep, and to raise a supply of corn and potatoes. Lochs Eynort and Skipport, on the east side of this island, I consider most suitable for fishing, being safe harbours, and not far from good fishing grounds. Under this head I would direct special attention to the island of Eriskay, with a population of close upon 500 souls mainly devoted to fishing. The land under tillage in Eriskay has become weak and almost useless from yearly cropping, while the supply of peat for fuel must come to an end within the next few years.
The population of South Uist must be looked upon as made up of two classes those devoted to agriculture, and mainly depending upon land for their livelihood, and those again who may be termed ' crofter-fishermen.' While, therefore, the interests of the crofters proper are to be considered, it will, moreover, be necessary to devise means for the development of the fishing industry by providing boats, nets, &c, and bringing, by improved and frequent communication with the mainland, the fishermen of this district within a comparatively easy distance of markets, in which they can get ready sale for all kinds of fish, and at remunerative prices. The want of speedy and direct communication with the southern markets I look upon as having conduced not a little to the present miserable condition of our fishing and crofting population, who found themselves compelled by the force of circumstances to buy dear and sell cheap, and, by a continuance of this, to become heavily indebted to the local merchants who were, in times of scarcity and distress, supplying them with the necessaries of life.
Any scheme having for its object wholesale emigration from these islands, whether such scheme be proposed by Parliament or by the landed proprietors, I would look upon as inimical to the interests of our nation, and contrary to the wishes and feelings of our crofter population To emigration on the part of individuals who may, of their own free wiU, choose to emigrate, I do not object; but I am far from having any sympathy with the views of those who, of themselves or through their responsible and paid servants, have mainly if not entirely brought about the present condition of affairs in the Highlands, and who now point out to us wholesale emigration as the only possible remedy.
What our crofters wish is, land of sufficient quantity at a fair rent, and with fixity of tenure, and this in their native country. I am decidedly of opinion that there is in Uist sufficient land for more than the present population, and that emigration is not the only remedy for the existing state of matters, if it can be regarded as a remedy at all in consequence of evidence given by me before your Commission at Lochboisdale as to the manner in which the religious feelings of the majority of the population of South Uist have been persistently and systematically disregarded in the selection of teachers for our board schools, I have been regarded by some endeavouring to stir up feelings of religious animosity among our people.
This charge I emphatically deny. My distinct aim was to direct attention to clamant injustice which is without a parallel in any other parish in Scotland, and to discharge a duty which I owe to myself, to my position, and to numerous flock intrusted to m y care. Our views as Catholics regarding the necessity of denominational education are well known ; and we are surely to be excused if, while we have recognised spiritual guides of our own, we decline to take our views regarding such education from estate officials or others with no stronger claims to our religious guidance.
ALEXANDER MACKINTOSH, C.C.