DUNCAN M'DONALD, Crofter, Port Ramsay (73)—examined.
36848. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—By whom were you chosen to come here?
—They wanted me to speak with respect to the estate—that portion of it upon the south end of the island under the Duke of Argyll, and held by one farmer.
36849. Whom do you mean by ' they ' ?
—My own choice. I have seen three lairds on that estate. When I was a young man there was a laird who was an object of praise for his conduct towards his tenantry and the poor. When that man died the estate was bought by another who promised well, but he remained a good proprietor only a very short time. He deprived us of our peat ground. Then, it appeared, it was his intention to put stock of his own upon the whole estate. The property consisted of six or seven townships. There have been over 400 or 500 souls there; and over the whole tract now there are only three shepherds and a manager. He exacted some conditions—I do not know properly what they were—from his tenantry. There was a field of ryegrass, green, and he was sending us away one after the other, and he himself gathering stock which he placed upon every place as it became vacant, I don't know for how many years he insisted upon grass being in those places, instead of its being arable land. When he got the whole place under grass instead of under crops, then he stocked it all, and the people were all away by that time. Those who had the means to take them to America went there, and some went to the large towns. The poorest became labourers to him at Is. a day for the men, and 6d. for the women, and they were paid each Saturday by a sort of meal. If they would not go to work for him on these terms, he threatened to pull down the houses of the poor people about their ears. I didn't mean a different quality of meal when I said 'a sort of meal' It was oatmeal; only one year, when there was a want of oatmeal, he got barley meal and ground it down.
36850. What year was that?
—About thirty or thirty-two years ago.
36851. Was that the time of the potato disease?
—Yes. I have seen some of these people who formerly had crops and cattle, and butter and cheese, and milk afterwards, in those years, going with their barley scone to a good well which was beside us when we were building, and take their meal—barley and water —and it grieved me sorely. My father and brother and myself were boat builders —building boats for those who required them, bringing sea-ware ashore, and other things. We built boats for the district round about. Latterly, nobody upon the estate required a boat.
36852. Was the scarcity in any degree due to the failure of the potatoes?
—Yes, to a certain extent, but not the whole extent. I have seen a great quantity of potatoes exported from this place when people were here. I have seen 120 tons sent out two of the townships in one year to Liverpool, and leaving a sufficient amount for the people of the place.
36853. Was that before the potato disease ?
36854. Who were your proprietors?
—The first proprietor that I remember was the one who was so good to his tenantry—David Campbell. They called him Combie. The next who came was Cheyne, from Fifeshire. He died leaving the place all under stock of his own. The property was in the possession of Mrs Choyne for several years after her husband's death, but after his death a tacksman named Stewart got the place. At the death of Mrs Cheyne the property was bought by the Duke of Argyll. The present tacksman is Mr Paterson. Since the Duke bought the property it has always been under one tacksman.
36855. Is the whole of the Duke's property in Lismore now in the hands of one tacksman ?
—There would be one-half of the township or so in the hands of three or four crofters at one time ; afterwards the whole estate was under one farmer.
36856. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What was the name of the town you were in yourself ?
36857. Can you give the names of the different towns that were cleared?
—Yes; Run-na-fiart—or I might call the first two townships Run-na-fiart and Fiart itself; Achananad, Balagrundle, Greaganaich, Gortcharrain, Achanacroigh—but I think that last place has still people on the one-half of it ; and Killean.
36858. Did Mr Cheyne raise the rents before he turned the people out ?
—I cannot say. It was this stocking of the land which was laid out in grass that was injuring us.
36859. He compelled you to leave out a certain quantity in grass andput stock on it, and thereby impoverished you ?
—He compelled us to leave out a certain porton of the croft in grass each year. He himself put stock upon it, and so the arable ground of our croft was continually reduced, and then he sent us away. I am not aware that he raised the rent.
36860. Did that action tend to impoverish you so that thereby you had to part with your stock ?
—There is the marrow ot the whole matter. We had about that time four sheep, and under one of the conditions we were deprived of them; and then we were not allowed to keep a pig, and things of that kind which contributed to pay our rents.
36861. Was that the policy pursued by Mr Cheyne —first to impoverish the people, and then to turn them out on the world ?
—That was it.
36862. Is it the present Duke of Argyll who bought it back?
—It was the present Duke. I have nothing to say with respect to him. The administration of the property remains as it was when he got it; he has done a good turn to us on our isle here—he has built a pier.
36863. Are you aware that this place at one time belonged to the Duke's family ?
—I never heard.
36864. At the time when the Duke purchased the property did you, or the other people, make any application to be restored to your old places ?
—No, I could not stand the place; I had to flee away from it. I was not sent off, I had to flee away. The very customers to whom we supplied boats were not allowed to come and purchase boats from us. I made no application anyhow. It is about twenty-eight years since I left the place.
36865. Are you aware that any other person who might have wished to remain in Lismore tried to get back?
—I am not aware. There was a man appointed to come forward —a Mr Black from Oban —but he has not
come, else he might have spoken on the matter. He and Mr Cheyne were at law for about two years in respect to his own place. Whatever his rights might have been, he was endeavouring to assert them. The people of the place used to say that if he had been as wealthy as Mr Cheyne was, he would be put out.
36866. Did Mr Cheyne's action give a great blow to the population, from which they have never recovered ?
—I can say those magnificent dales, once cultivated, are now being covered over with useless weeds and moss, as if the land itself were to say, ' I shall return to my original state.'
36867. Were there any other cases of a similar kind, although not of such magnitude?
36868. The Chairman.
—You mentioned the names of a number of townships that have been cleared in Mr Cheyne's time. Can you give us any idea of the number of families there were in them at the time ?
—I might give a pretty close guess. The place was allotted out into crofts of such a size that each tenant kept four milk cows —six and eight was the average. In addition to this stock that I mentioned, Mr Campbell, the good proprietor, allotted out parks in certain districts, where the tenants were allowed to keep young stock and farrow cows, and they might have perhaps six queys there, some stirks, and a horse or two, and a place to summer and winter them. They were in the habit of preserving one-fourth of the place during the whole three months of autumn without pasturing upon it at all, so that it would afford good pasture ground in winter. And this good proprietor, again, sent a fresh bid every second year to these tenantry, and improved the stock, so that it can be seen to the present day. The stock were so improved that the cattle dealers, as they came down, specially fancied the cattle of these townships.
36869. Did Mr Cheyne's clearances begin before the potato famine ?
38870. Are there any crofts left upon the Duke's estate now? How many crofts are there in Achnacroishl
—There is the one-half of Achnacroish and also Killean in the hands of small tenants. I cannot say how many there are in Killean. Some of the crofts have been made larger upon these places.
36871. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Did Mr Cheyne give you the grass seed to lay down in pasture, or did you buy the grass seed for yourselves ?
—I believe he commenced by giving them the seed grass. He gave them seed grass in the first years whatever, so far as I can remember.
36872. Did he pay you or make any allowance to you in your rent for the sheep he grazed upon your grass ?
—Well you know he was sending them away, and then he was putting stock upon the ground.
36873. Do you know how long it is since he first began to send them away ?
—It is my opinion he began to send some of them away before the potato disease, but I cannot speak with certainty. I believe the clearing was going on thirty years ago.
36874-5. The Chairman.
—When Mr Cheyne grazed his stock upon the ground which he had made them turn into pasture, did he graze his stock on their pasture the whole year, or for only part of a year ?
—It was left under grass for two or three grass crops, which were taken off it. It was cut, and I believe these belonged to the tenants; but it was after that that it was thrown out into pasture, and he was putting stock upon it, as he was bringing the stock into the country.