Bunessan, Mull, 8 August 1883 - Neil Matheson

NEIL MATHESON, Fisherman, Bunessan (60)—examined.

35183. Professor Mackinnon.
—Have you any statement to make?
—I have been a fisherman from my youth, and that source of living for the last sixteen years has been getting less and less; and now, in my old age, I would be glad, if possible, to get a piece of land.

35184. Are you a native of this place?
—I am.

35185. And you have ceased fishing how long since ?
—I am still fishing.

35186. What fishing do you follow now"?
—Lobster during the whole year except summer, and salmon fishing in summer, for the last eight or nine years.

35187. Who rents the salmon fishings here?
—Clark and M'Lean, in Ulva,

35188. And you fish salmon for them?
—For myself.

35189. You have a piece of the shore for yourself?

35190. How much of the shore have you?
—I have the whole place round Ulva and Gometra.

35191. Whom do you give the fish to ?
—Mr M'Quarrie ; we are in shares.

35192. Where do you fish the lobsters?
—Erraid Island, since thirty years.

35193. You cannot fish there in winter ?
—Yes; I was there thirty years fishing winter and summer all round.

35194. And do you say the fishing is going back ?
—Yes, every kind of fish is getting scarce.

35195. You want to get land now?

35196. Are you tired of the sea?

35197. There is no cod and ling fishing about here, is there ?
—Yes, there is.

35198. Can it be prosecuted with success?
—People are so poor, and they cannot prosecute the fishing in summer, because there is no way of curing the fish.

35199. Where do they fish cod and ling?
—Between Iona and Dhu Heartach.

35200. And do you know the fishing ground well enough ?
—Oh, yes.

35201. Do you think there is plenty of fish?

35202. And what is required in order to enable the fishing to be prosecuted successfully?
—Just good boats and help for the poor fishermen.

35203. To get boats and lines?

35204. Do you think if they had that they would be able to make a living out of the fishing?
—Yes, I am sure of it, if the fish are as plentiful now as they were in my time.

35205. Do the herring come this way at all?
—There are plenty of herring passing, if there was a good boat to get them.

35206. Do you think the herring come so near the shores here, that if people had large boats and nets they should get the herring ?
—Yes, I am sure of it ; and every year since I have commenced I have seen plenty of them between Dhu Heartach and Iona, and out here just the same.

35207. You don't know if any of the people here have tried the herring fishing outside ?
—It was never tried outside.

35208. But you are quite convinced from your knowledge of their ways and habits the fish are there every summer ?
—I am quite sure of it.

35209. Is there a good harbour at Erraid Island ?
—Plenty of good islands all round the coast, and good harbours too.

35210. So that there would be no quays required or anything of that sort ?
—No; the fishermen could get ashore in any place.

35211. And are there many young, strong men about the place who would be able to take up that work ?

35212. And willing?
—And willing, if they had the means to do it.

35213. And they are good boatmen?
—Oh, yes, very good.

35214. Do you know if they ever applied to any men with money for boats and lines, agreeing to pay them back by degrees ?
—I am not aware that they did.

35215. I suppose there are no large boats big enough for the ocean fishing ?
—No. I have one, but the way I put out so much money on the salmon fishing, and did not do anything with it, I was not able to get herring nets to try it, but I am very willing.

35216. Have you a boat yourself ?

35217. Is that the boat we saw out in the bay as we came in ?

35218. What is the length of keel ?
—Thirty feet.

35219. It is one of the ordinary east coast boats?
—Yes. She was built at Loch Carron.

35220. Is she big enough ?
—Big enough ; she was at the herring fishing before I got her.

35221. They are having much larger boats on the east coast now ?
—Yes; but she is big enough for this coast.

35222. Don't you think that it would pay to salt the cod and ling, although there is no market for the fresh fish?
—Yes, I am quite sure of it ; for twenty-four summers I was curing cod and ling, and it paid me well.

35223. Of course, you would make a much better wage if you had a market for the fresh fish, but still you could make a wage with the salt fish ?
—Yes. I have sent 4½ tons of dried fish away, and I used to get £18 and £18, 10s. a ton.

35224. Why didn't you persuade some of the young men to go to that work after you stopped it yourself?
—The majority of them are getting so poor that they cannot get stores and material and boats to put up all that is required.

35225. Are the lobsters getting scarcer about the shore ?

35226. How do you account for that ?
—There are too many fishing them.

35227. Do you keep close time?

35228. You never did here ?
—No; that is what is spoiling them, fishing through the summer.

35229. Why don't you arrange amongst yourselves to keep close time?
—It was not put in force.

35230. Although one might keep close time others would not?

35231. And could that fishing be now prosecuted with profit—could one make wages upon the lobster fishing round the south end ?
—It has kept them thus far.

35232. You would wish to get some land now ; would you be able to take up a good-sized croft ?
—I could manage to keep four or five cows ; I would not want a bigger size than that.

35233. Did you make any application to the factor when there was a vacant croft ?
—I many a time asked a croft, and did not get it yet.

35234. I suppose there is keen competition for a croft when there is a vacancy ?

35235. There are more crofters than crofts ?

35236. You heard those who have land complain that the rent is very high?
—Yes, the rent is too high.

35237. Even supposing you think the rent too high you would wish to get one of those crofts ?
—Not at the same rent.

35238. You think as rents go upon the crofts on this estate, fishing is the more profitable of the two ?
—I would prefer land ; I am getting too old for fishing. I was twenty-four years paying rent for one end of a house. It was built so close to the shore that the tide came in, and I had to thatch it and keep it in repair, and pay £4 rent for the bare house. Then I got the whole house for £5. At last the rent was raised to £8, the bare house.

35239. To whom did you pay the rent ?
—To Mr Campbell, the factor.

35240. You don't stay in that house now?
—No, I had to leave it.

35241. You had not a bit of land about it ?
—No, I had not; just a wee bit garden that would raise a barrel of potatoes.

35242. Who has it now ?
—Mr M'Niven.

35243. What does he pay for it?
—He has a big farm, and the house goes with the farm.

35244. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you not mention something about Ulva ?
—I had the fishing there for the last eight years.

35245. Do you know the island of Ulva?
—I do.

35246. Do you recollect it when it belonged to the M'Quaries ?
—I don't remember that.

35247. Are there many people on it now ?
—Only four shepherds and two or three cottars.

35248. Was it not once a very populous island ?
—I have heard it said there were eighty families on it.

35249. Were those families all removed against their own consent about the same period ?
—I heard that, but cannot speak to it.

35250. Is that very long ago ?
—About thirty years ago.

35251. Was it the father of the present proprietor who did it?
—It was the present proprietor.

35252. Is Ulva a fertile island ?
—It was once a good island, but it is not very fertile now; it is grown with weeds, rushes, and ferns.

35253. From whom did Mr Clark purchase it?
—I don't know, but I think it was the M'Quarries.

35254. The Chairman.
—You said the lobster fishing had fallen off very much; if you ceased to fish lobsters for a year or two, would the lobsters increase again and be as numerous as ever ?

35255. Would it be a good thing if the Government enforced the law for a close season for lobsters ?
—It would be well for the fishermen if the Government would put some restriction upon the fishing. They are carting them in the summer, and half of them die before they reach the market. If they were not fished at that time these fish would be useful.

35256. What use do you put your big boat to at present ?
—When I am fishing lobsters that boat is my home.

35257. But you say you are now becoming too old ?
—Yes, but I am still fishing.

35258. Suppose, instead of repairing to the land, you became a fishcurer, and let your boat to four or five of the young men of the place, could you not make some money in that way ?
—I believe I could. I know the fishing grounds well, and if I had a crew and sufficient nets and boats, I could make a good living.

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