STATEMENT by the Rev. RODERICK MACRAE, F.C. Manse Carloway, Lewis.
5th September 1883.
In compliance with the request of the Royal Commission, I have the honour to submit to you the following statements in reference to the condition and circumstances of the people of my congregation at Carloway.
I have been resident in Lewis for the last seven years, and beyond that period I cannot speak from personal knowledge of the state of the country, or the condition of the people. In my humble opinion the chief cause of the grievances of the Lewis people is general poverty, arising from overcrowding and the subdivision of crofts. Among small crofters it is found very dimcult to prevent subdivision, and though the present chamberlain is known to have done his utmost to prevent it, yet subdivision has been injudiciously allowed sometime or other to take place in Lewis to an injurious extent. Considerable curtailment of holdings without corresponding reduction of rent has also taken place by the formation of new crofts out of the common pasture land in connection with different townships. The result of this process has been the present overcrowding. Seeing then that the whole extent of pasture land available for crofts has been in the manner described already formed into new lots, one does not see how the overcrowding and smallness of holdings, of which the people have so much cause to complain, can be relieved or remedied under present arrangements in the Lewis. In these straitened circumstances the people naturally raise a cry about land under sheep and deer which they think should be distributed among the crofter population. It is doubtful, however, whether the amount of land under sheep and deer available for crofts would be found sufficient to accommodate the surplus population, or relieve the people's poverty to the extent required. Even should the big farms be set free, the crofters could hardly pay the rent which these yield, unless they were able to stock them, and work them as club farms.
The crofters' holdings are too small, and though the whole extent of their lots is cultivated minutely from year to year, it is only in exceptional cases that the quantity of grain and potatoes raised is found sufficient to support their families. In consequence of this incessant cropping, the soil of their crofts is gradually deteriorating.
The people are strong, healthy, and industrious, and if they had plenty of cultivable land to work upon, they should experience no difficulty in providing a comfortable and independent livelihood for themselves and families. They are also a well-behaving, orderly, and a strictly temperate class of people. Within my recollection there have been no acts of oppression in the Lewis. The people are generously and considerately treated by the estate, and in this respect they have less cause to complain than many others of their class in other parts of the Highlands.
By way of suggesting remedies for the grievances of the people, I would propose:
1st. Liberal encouragement by the Government for the better development of fishing industries of the island. Towards this end Government should give substantial assistance for the formation and building of harbours in all places in the island where such would be serviceable.
2nd. Encouragement by the Government for the establishment of fishing villages at suitable places, where the people could earn a comfortable livelihood independent of their crofts. In this way the present overcrowding would be relieved to a considerable extent, and accommodation, and remunerative employment provided for a large portion of the surplus population.