Lismore, 13 August 1883 - James Wilson

JAMES WILSON, Teacher of the Public School, Baligarve (32)—examined.

37100. The Chairman.
—You wish to make a statement ?
—Yes; the people asked me to come and give evidence about several particulars. The first thing I have to refer to is the steady decrease of the population. The witness Buchanan has anticipated me a little, but he was quite right in his statement, and the only omission he made was that by the census of 1871 it had decreased to about 750. In the year 1881 it had decreased to 637. The decrease during the last decade proceeds not so much from people leaving the place as from the paucity of marriages, things being, on the whole, so bad that people have very little means to keep a family. The next thing to which I wanted to refer was the house accommodation, which is very bad, the houses being all thatch, and the wood-work, and such, of a very rude sort. Hardly any of the doors have locks, but, in place, any rude contrivance that the people may invent; and with a north-west gale their places are made very uncomfortable. There is also very little accommodation for the stock. As for the other things, I have to repeat the complaint of the whole of the other witnesses about the rents being too high. One man on the Ballyveolin estate wished me to give the particulars of his rent. His rent is £51, and the taxes about £3, 10s. His place keeps eight cows with their calves, and he keeps the calves a year. He has also two horses in winter and one in summer, and he sows about eight bolls of oats and plants two acres of potatoes. His house and other premises are very bad. When prices are good he can only make a living, and when prices are bad it is a very hard time for him indeed. That is about all I can say respecting the general state of the people. The people of Port Ramsay asked me to state some particulars in connection with petitioning the proprietor for a reduction of rent. Some of them came to me, and asked me to draw up a petition from particulars which they supplied to me, and I did so. They signed the petition and presented it to the proprietor or factor on the rent day, praying for a reduction of rent, and that the interest might be taken off their houses, or some interest they were charged for drainage. This was refused them, and, I believe, in pretty rough terms; and the factor set about trying to discover who it was that took the lead in getting up the petition. He came to me, and asked me if I would supply him with information. I asked what he wanted to do with it —if he wanted to put any person out of his croft who took the lead in the matter. He said “no”; and I asked why he wanted the information. He said he wanted to keep his eye upon him. I asked what he meant by that, and he said he did not want to put him out of his croft

37101. Whose property was this upon?
—Mr Fell's.

37102. What is the name of the factor?
—J. Fraser Sim.

37103. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How long is it since this petition was presented?
—I think at Whitsunday 1883.

37104. The Chairman.
—Is the accommodation in any of the houses so bad as to have any influence upon the health of the people ?
—I should say it is; at least I would not like to live in the houses.

37105. Has there been any outbreak of fever or any infectious disease in the country ?
—Yes, during the past season there have been measles, but there has been an epidemic over the whole district. But in winter the children are very apt to catch colds, which I attribute principally to the house accommodation.

37106. Do you mean that the houses are so close?
—That they are so open ; so many draughts; too much ventilation.

37107. That they catch cold in their own houses ?
—Yes.

37108. But generally we find that the common houses in the Highlands are very warm ?
—They don't look warm to a person who goes in.

37109. Is the fire on the floor?
—I believe it is in one or two cases, not more.

37110. The houses have chimneys?
—Yes.

37111. Is there no peat used in the island ?
—No.

37112. Is there any advantage on the estate with reference to accommodation; is more encouragement given to house building en some estates than others ?
—Not that I know of. My impression is that little encouragement is given to providing house accommodation. But I cannot speak positively. I know the general way in which houses are put up, which you have heard already ; the proprietor paying half and the tenant the other half; or the proprietor putting up a house and the tenant paying interest for it, or rent. Some of them say it is 7½ per cent, that is charged—that is on Mr Fell's estate.

37113. With reference to the rarity of marriages, is there any regulation against marriage upon any estate that you are acquainted with ?
—No.

37114. There is no positive discouragement shown to marriages?
—Not that I am aware of.

37115. But as there is such a diminution of population, I presume there is a diminution in the number of householders ?
—Yes.

37116. Then surely those who remain ought to have a larger share in the land and be better off ?
—I cannot say very well as to how they are off. They do not look very well off, a great many of them.

37117. Is there a sanitary inspector in the parish?
—I don't know.

37118. The inspector of poor probably fills the office of sanitary inspector ?
—Probably so ; I cannot say.

37119. Has any complaint ever been made by him upon representation about the nature of the accommodation ?
—Not that I know of.

37120. When you state that the factor came to you for information respecting a petition for reduction of rent, why do you think the factor selected the schoolmaster ?
—Because he knew I wrote out the petition for the people.

37121. When he asked you to indicate the parties what did you do?
—I asked him first what he intended to do, if I should give him the information.

37122. And he said he would keep his eye upon the person ?
—I asked if he would do the man any harm, and he said no. Then I asked why he wanted the information, and he said he wanted to keep his eye upon him.

37123. Do you think it is altogether prudent on your part as schoolmaster to make yourself an instrument and vehicle of complaints between a tenant and the landlord; I mean, do you think that the people are so illiterate that they could not draw up a petition or remonstrance of that sort themselves without your mediation ?
—I am in the habit of doing everything of that sort, whether it is for that purpose or any other.

37124. They are in the habit of coming to you ?
—Yes, it is quite the habit. I have done many things of that kind.

37125. And you lend your assistance to them?
—Yes, simply to put the thing in proper form for any person who wishes it done. It is understood I am neither pulling one way nor another.

37126. You simply act for their convenience and their benefit ?
—Yes; I know my business is not that of an agitator of any sort.

37127. Are you quite satisfied altogether with the management of the school; do you find the School Board attentive to their duties and anxious to give you every assistance ?
—They are attentive enough in everyway except in the enforcement of the compulsory clause; they are a little lax in that way.

37128. Their meetings are regular?
—As far as I know.

37129. Do they show any spontaneous or kindly interest in the school besides the performance of their official duty ?
—Yes, the local members of the School Board generally give the children a trip.

37130. Are there prizes offered for proficiency in the school?
—No.

37131. Who are the members of the School Board?
—The chairman is Dr Campbell, Ballachulish; the Episcopal Minister, Ballachulish; Mr Currie, hotel keeper, Ballachulish; Mr McDougall, minister, Duror; Dr Mackay, Port Appin; Mr Mackay, and Mr Alexander M'Coll, Park.

37132. Have there been any contested elections?
—Yes, the last election was contested.

37133. What do the contests turn upon; upon personal preference or upon any question connected with religion or politics ?
—There was no question of religion brought to the front last time.

37134. So that it is a simple question of personal preference?
—Yes. The people here divided their votes between two candidates from the island, and both these were carried. They did so in order to get the island represented by two members.

37135. You have reason to believe that the School Board as at present
constituted is agreeable to the people and represents their wishes fairly ?
—Yes.

37136. No constraint is exercised by proprietors or farmers ?
—Not that I am aware of; I never heard of such a thing.

37137. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are you a native of Argyllshire?
—No, I am a native of Forfarshire.

37138. Do you know anything of the other parts of the Highlands ?
—No.

37139. You have never seen Highland cottages except here?
—No.

37140. Are you registrar for this district?
—Yes.

37141. Can you tell us anything about the proportion of births and deaths ?
—About seventeen births in the year. Two or three of these come from Kingairloch, a district over in Morven ; perhaps about fifteen in the island. The deaths are at least equal to that.

37142. There would have to be more if the population is on the decrease and nobody leaves the island?
—That is for the past two or three years.

37143. The births and deaths in your experience have been about equal ?
—Yes ; the deaths rather have it.

37144. And when you say the decrease of the population results from the fewness of marriages it is merely a matter of opinion ?
—Yes, there are not more than two marriages in the year.

37145. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are there any proprietors resident on the island?
—I do not think so.

37146. Are any of the larger farmers non-resident also?
—Mr Paterson of Kilchearan does not reside here. He has a manager on the place.

37147. Where does he reside?
—I cannot say.

37148. Does the Duke of Argyll's estate comprehend a considerable portion of the island ?
—A good deal.

37149. One-half or one-third would you say ?
—Perhaps between a third and a half ; but I cannot say positively.

37150. There is no resident proprietor?
—No.

37151. And there is no resident tenant?
—Mr Paterson is the only non-resident tenant.

37152. Does he occupy the whole of the Duke's land?
—The most of it.

37153. Do you speak Gaelic?
—No.

37154. Do the children mostly speak English ?
—Yes, they speak English fairly welL

37155. You are quite correct in stating Mr Paterson pays a very large proportion of the Duke's rental ?
—Yes.

37156. Do you concur in what has been stated about the good Mr M'Intyre, who has the quarries, does to the island ?
—Yes; I have always found him a gentlemanly man and a kind man.

37157. Do any of the other proprietors do something in the way of showing a benevolent interest in the smaller tenants, by giving sums annually ?
—Mr Fell, I believe, distributes money and goods among the poor occasionally.

37158. Does he do that regularly ?
—I think so.

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