ALEXANDER MACPHERSON, Crofter, Kinloch (40), assisted by MALCOLM M'LEAN, Crofter, Kinloch (38)—examined.
34823. The Chairman.
—Have you got a paper ?
—In the township of Kinloch there were in 1861 twenty-five people. Up to that time the crofters had been in the enjoyment of hill pasture, but the then proprietor deprived them of it, and in consequence they were not able to keep so large a stock. No abatement of rent was made when the pasture was taken away. In 1815, fifteen crofters were deprived of their crofts, and these were converted into a large holding. Twenty years ago rents were £ 6 and £6, 10s., but they have been increased until now they are £ 8 and £ 10. The present proprietor, besides raising our rent, took away the horse park, still further reducing the grazing. The crofters also have to build their own houses, the landlord giving no assistance. We now beg to make a statement which will enable the Royal Commission to take in the surroundings as well as the condition of the complainants, and perhaps see how far it is in the power of the rulers of the country to redress the grievances complained of without loss or injury to any one else. From any elevation here about, the eye will take in a strath at the head of the loch at least three miles in length, and averaging a mile in breadth. On the north side of the loch there is a fine slope of ten miles, combining excellent arable land and about the best of hill grazing. On the south side there is an equal extent although not of equality, but still what the poor cottars and crofters would be thankful to have for all this wealth of land within. Near the whole of the crofters' population, and nearly all the cottars are like so many half-water half-land plants studded over the poorest parts of the slopeland often flooded by the tide, and never properly drained for seed; in short, the Kinloch crofters are placed as above on the only spots in the district of this sort of land. The average extent of arable land held by the crofters is two acres a piece, as estimated from the quantity of seed sown—about one boll of oats, and four or five barrels of potatoes ; and the only pasture is made up of the worst patches about and among the arable portions. Eight crofters make a shift to keep two cows each by buying fodder in the winter, and not one of them has a horse. For this there is a rent of £72 exacted. There are two who are neither crofters nor cottars, having a small bit of garden, each pay between them £ 4 , 5s. There is ten cottars who pay £ 1 a piece house rent, and for every barrel of potatoes they pay 10s. extra. There are four cottars who must be mentioned to the credit of the estate as paying no rent at all, but their only visible means of subsistence from the local resources is the small quantity of potatoes which they raise out of land given them by the crofters. There is only one pauper on the Kinloch estate just now, several having died of late years, some of them under circumstances which require to be laid before our gracious Sovereign. Neil Black, an old man, who was well to do at one time on a farm, and on being evicted by the late Loch Buy, could not get even a cow's grass, died a pauper four years ago. He was so poor and so neglected, that when the neighbours felt called upon to minister to his necessities and offered him bodily attendance, his flesh was falling off his bones, and he was in so disgusting a state that only stout-hearted men could go near him. The cause was aggravated by there being two sisters in with him, which only add to the distress. Widow M'Donald, also very old, and a pauper, died nearly two years ago, and but for her poor neighbours would have been dead years previously. But they could not prevent all the effects of official neglect, and the woman became diseased from want of attention, and the maggots were alive in her body before she was dead. Donald Black, at one time a crofter, but being unable to cultivate his land without a horse, gave up, and soon became a pauper. He also died about three years ago, his death having been hastened by want of care, and the consequent filth in and about his bed and clothes. He was a prey to heaps of vermin, insomuch that those who in desperation visited him wondered he was not being carried out of his bed by the parasites. His widow died shortly afterwards, and such was her state of body and bedding from the same causes that she besought the neighbours to bring her nettles that she might relieve herself from the irksomeness of the vermin with the stinging pain of the nettles. These poor objects of pity and disgust are examples of the antinatural tendency of the system under which their less wretched neighbours are struggling against the forces which the law of the country place at the disposal of the owners of lands. At the head of the loch there were, within not much more than twenty years, fifteen crofters who were able, from their arable land and hill pasture, to keep three cows and followers, thirty sheep, and about seven horses among them. All these were removed, and the existing ten have only been allowed to remain because their lots were inferior. One of the evicted was put among the remainder, on a croft which another one was unable to work to advantage. All this land is now in the proprietor's hands. On the north side there were ninety-seven crofters in such comfort that they were under no necessity to go elsewhere for any part of their living; and although some of them were only cottars, they were far better off than the crofters of to-day. They all had cattle and sheep, they paid but little rent, and there was always employment for them. All these were removed, and now the lands on which they lived are occupied by the tacksmen who have no families, and the remainder is in the hands of three proprietors, two of whom, like the tacksmen, have no families. Without repeating details of the process of laying the land waste on the south side of the loch, it is all with the exception of two tacksmen in the hands of three proprietors. Yet with all these resources lying comparatively waste, the remnant of crofter and cottars are in the abject condition partly described. It was not merely that they are a remnant, but were reduced still further by the taking away of the hill pasture which lay by Loch Buy, without any reduction of rent, although by this curtailment dispersed of the pasture thirty sheep a piece, he left them an enclosed bit of pasture for their horses ; but although this was in name of supporting five horses, it would not graze more than two horses. Even this small mercy was taken away when Mr Mitchell became proprietor, and given to the tenant of the inn, at a rent of £5 per year; and instead of a reduction being made in the rents of the crofters, they were raised at an average of £3 and £4 a piece. In these circumstances, the crofters and cottars have to look out elsewhere for employment, that they may pay their rents. Even if the crofts were free, they would not support the crofter's families a quarter of a year. The only thing they get out of the land in good years are potatoes and milk; grain is out of the question. Oats do not come to perfection in the poor late soil, and the whole outcome of them can only be used as fodder. All the meal and all the other necessaries have to be provided out of the wages earned elsewhere, and that they are alive at all on the dismal spots which they occupy is an abundant refutation of the wanton charge of laziness. The only employment the proprietor ever gives is an occasional spell at sheep-shearing and the like, and the people give him their work for no other wages than one meal of food a day. In short, he promotes industry by paying no wages for work done for him. In his brother's time we got the loan of a horse sometimes, as we did from the tacksmen about, but if we did, we were obliged to defer the ploughing and sowing until they were ready, and until it was late in the season. Mr Mitchell has no horses now, but he sends for us as stated all the same, as if he were in the practice of lending horses to us. Mr Mitchell seems to be aware that there is fish in Loch Scridan, but he knows also that we are so poor that he would require to have security for his rent if he gave us back the hill they took from us. He brands us as being too lazy to catch the fish. We have disposed of this charge already; but we desire to state as a simple fact that there is not a crofter in the estate or a cottar who has the wherewith to go to fish. There are only three boats among the twentytwo families, and not one of these has the necessary fishing gear. The able-bodied would fish the loch, rather than go from home to work, but they have been so impoverished by rack-renting, taxes, and stripping of lands, that they cannot catch the fish which comes within sight of their doors. In many cases our houses are of the humblest class, and even at that they are in a very dilapidated state. Some of them are liable to be flooded by the sea ; but Mr Mitchell does not contribute one farthing in money, timber, stone, or lime to save us from being buried in the ruins. From the brief survey taken of the three divisions of the neighbouring lands, it has been seen that there is plenty on the hands of the proprietors. The chief remedy for all our grievances is more and better land, and that to be held at moderate rents, and on a secure tenure. The land we have might be drained and greatly improved, and with the hill pasture restored we could make some progress. Our stock would improve and increase, and in a short time we would be able to stock more land. If the excessive rents which we have paid during the past twenty years were refunded as they ought to be, we could stock all t he land we require, and get boats for the fishing. Mr Mitchell says he gives £ 1 a year for hogg wintering as a present to reduce the rents ; in this case he only gave us 2s. per head, while they get in every place 3s. 6d. per hogg. About two years ago we sent the proprietor a petition asking reduction of rent. The answer was that he could not think of letting down the rents, as he heard that we made a great deal of money on the fishing that year. But we must protest against the adding of interest for the cost of the drains. We have paid ten times over for all the improvements the land requires in the excess rents which we have been paying to the three proprietors in succession, who have been rack-renting us and cutting off our lands. There is excellent land lying waste nearly in t h e hands of the proprietor, that is ready for the plough; and if he does not allow the men who are willing to work it to take a living out of it, and add to the wealth of the nation, it is a good enough reason why we should add our voice to that of the others who have suggested that the Government should take the lands into their own hands, and make sure that it is applied to the purposes for which God ereated it.
—ALEXANDER M'PHERSON and MALCOLM M'LEAN, delegates.
34824. How many crofters are there in the township?
—Ten just now.
34825. Your statement extends from 1861 to the present time, that for rather more than twenty years, how many crofters were there in the year 1861?
34826. In your paper it is said there were twenty-five ; do you mean crofters and cottars, or crofters only?
—There were twenty-five in 1861.
34827. Who was proprietor in 1861 ?
—MacLaine of Loch Buy.
34828. Who is the proprietor now ?
34829. Mr Mitchell bought the property in 1873 or 1874?
—Ten or eleven years ago.
34830. In what year were you deprived of your hill pasture ?
—Twentytwoyears since —1861.
34831. When you were deprived of your pasture in 1861, were you obliged to keep a smaller stock, or did you go on keeping the same amount of stock ?
—We had to lessen the stock.
34832. How much?
—We had three cows before 1861 and a two-year-old, and now we have only two cows; and we lost grazing for thirty sheep and a horse.
34833. In 1865 fifteen crofters were deprived of their crofts; what became of those fifteen crofters ?
—They were sent away.
34834. Were they sent to other parts of the estate or all over the world ?
—Some got places on the estate and others found for themselves; only two of the fifteen remained on the estate.
34835. And thirteen went away ?
34S36. Did they emigrate or remain about the island?
—Some of them remained in Mull, and others went where they could get.
34837. The fifteen crofts were converted into a large holding; did they form the whole of the holding, or were they added to a holding which existed before?
—They were divided between two farms, some were given to a place in Loch Buy.
34838. Were those two farms already large farms ?
—One of them was a farm before, pretty large, and the other was small.
34839. What are the names of those two farms—what is the name of the large one ?
34840. And what is the name of the small one ?
—The rest was added to the lands of the inn at Kinloch.
34841. So that you now pay £ 8 and £ 10 for your holdings, for which you paid £6 and £6, 10s. twenty years ago; but you have lost the hill grazing, and you have been deprived of the horse pasture?
34842. You say that the land is not sufficient even for two cows; have you to hire grazing for the cows in summer and buy fodder for them in winter ?
—We are obliged to buy in the winter. In the summer we have grazing for them, and in winter we are obliged to buy straw.
34843. How much will you pay for straw for winter feeding ?
—We have sometimes to buy £ 2 and £ 3 worth over and above what we have ourselves,
34844. How many acres of arable ground have you?
—They never mentioned the ground, but we plan!, about five barrels of potatoes and some oats.
34845. Can you not give an idea ?
—About an acre for potatoes and an acre for corn.
34846. Where is the pasture ?
—It borders about the arable land. There is no common at all.
34847. Has the proprietor got the farm in his own hands; is he both proprietor and tenant?
—Mr Mitchell, the proprietor, died, and was succeeded by his brother. Mr Mitchell had a farm to himself, and I think it is still in the hands of his brother.
34848. Does Mr Mitchell reside there?
—He does not.
34849. Who is the factor?
—Mr M'Lachlan, Tobermory.
34850. Is he here at this moment ?
—He is not
34851. Is Mr Mitchell here?
34852. You say that you pay £ 8 and £ 10; why is there this difference of rent ? Are some of the crofts better than others ?
—Some of them are better than others.
34853. Do the crofters who pay £ 1 0 keep three cows?
—They are keeping them in the summer and trying to keep them in the winter too, but they have to buy straw for them.
34854. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Was this estate long in the possession of the MacLaines of Loch Buy ?
34855. Who had it before them?
—Fitzroy M'Lean had it before Loch Buy.
34856. Was it Sir Fitzroy
—I am not aware; I was but young at the time.
34857. How is the ground which was taken from you and which is now in the occupation of the proprietor, used ?
—It is at present under sheep in the proprietor's hand.
34858. Has he got any other place than this—estates or farms?
—I think they have lands in the north, but I don't know whether they are freehold.
34859. I suppose when this proprietor bought the estate he found crofters rather in the way of what he wanted it for?
—I don't know.
34860. At all events, your lands were taken from you?
—Yes, that was so.
34861. What do you now want exactly—those of you who remain?
—We want land at a reasonable rent to enable us to live.
34862. Can you exist otherwise than in the state of misery unless that is done ?
—There is no employment; nothing scarcely but misery ; we were so poor this year that we had no seed to put into the ground, had it not come from other quarters.
34863. Have you and your forefathers been in this place ?
—Our forefathers were and we also.
34864. What did the proprietor who took away the hill pasture do with the land ?
—Mr MacLaine of Loch Buy divided the land he took away from the township to Rossal, and some to the Kinloch inn.
34865. And what the present proprietor did was to take away the park and increase your rent ?
—That was all that was done by the present proprietor.
34866. Does the present proprietor give you any employment?