Lochaline, 11 August 1883 - John Macdonald

JOHN MACDONALD, Shopman in the Clothing Trade, Glasgow (36)—examined.

36380. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you connected with this locality by birth ?
—I am.

36381. Were you born here ?

36382. What place ?
—On the estate of the late Sir Charles Gordon, in Drimnin.

36383. Did your father possess any land upon that estate?

36384. What rent was he paying?
—I cannot tell.

36385. Was he in possession of what we call a croft?
—Yes; it was, I believe, held as a club farm.

36386. He would not have been paying £ 30 of rent?
—Not so much.

36387. What was the name of the township where the club farm was of which your father had a share ?

36388. Is that the island ?
—It is.

36389. Was the whole of Oronsay one club farm ?
—It was one club farm the whole of it.

36390. And have you been told how many crofters were in the farm ?
—Yes, there were first six, and afterwards there were only four, so far as I can remember.

36391. Was your father one of the four?
—My father was not. He died, and rny mother had to give up the land.

36392. How long is it since you left the district?
—Nearly twenty years now.

36393. Have you kept up your interest and communication with it during that time ?

36394. What became of the people of Oronsay ?
—One of those who was in Oronsay was the last delegate, another is in Glasgow —he removed
to Glasgow—and two or three are on the adjoining estate of Mr Dalgleish, Ardnamurchan.

36395. The club farm was abolished, and the people had to go?

36396. Who has it now?
—A large farmer.

36397. What is his name?
—Donald M'Master.

36398. Where did he come from?
—The upper end of the district here. He was a shepherd formerly on Mr Smith's estates.

36399. Is he a native of Morven?
—I believe he is ; I believe he was born in this parish.

36400. Since you are speaking about Glenmorven estate, from whom did Sir Charles Gordon purchase the property ?
—It belonged, I believe, to M'Lean. That was the name of the proprietor before Sir Charles Gordon bought the estate.

36401. Is it an estate of considerable size?
—It is not a very large estate. It is just now in two farms and the home farm, I think, and a few crofters.

36402. Speaking generally, was there not a considerable population in Drimnin at one time ?
—There was, I believe.

36403. You have heard that, and have seen it perhaps yourself?
—I remember myself quite distinctly that there were a good many people about the places mentioned in the statement. I remember that there were seven or eight families, not saying I am altogether correct, but so far as I can remember.

36404. In your time were the people scattered out of the estate ?
—In the time of the late Lady Gordon.

36405. Sir Charles Gordon's widow ?

36406. To whom does the estate belong now?
—To Mr Joseph Gordon.

36407. Her son?
—Her son.

36408. It is now all occupied as two farms ?
—There are two occupied by farmers, and there is another in the proprietor's hands; and besides there is the home farm attached to the big house.

36409. You were old enough before you left to observe matters ?
—I was seventeen when I left the district.

36410. Were the people you used to associate with in comfortable circumstances in the class you belonged to?
—They were fairly comfortable.

36411. Did any of them go away of their own accord, or did circumstances compel them to go ; were they evicted or starved out ?
—So far as I know, there were few of them went away of their own accord. It was altogether a matter of ' must' with the majority of those I know.

36412. Were the places in Oronsay from which they were removed suitable for the people of the crofting class ?
—It was not very suitable when they went there, but they made it suitable.

36413. Did they keep a mixed stock of cattle and sheep ?
—They didn't keep many sheep, but they had five or six cows.

36414. In your young days you never suffered from want of milk?
—I believe I did.

36415. How was that ?
—Because when my father died my mother had to give up the land, and cows, and everything, and after that she was dependent on what milk her neighbours would supply her with.

36416. But those who had crofts did not suffer from want of milk?
—I don't think so.

36417. I believe you can give some information about the estate of Glenmorven ?
—I wish to give an explanation in regard to the statement that the whole of that estate is one large farm. The people wish to adhere to that statement, because there is practically only one farm on the estate. Captain Shaw has the whole of that estate. There is not another farmer on it besides the crofters, and the crofters have, with very few exceptions, the remnants and useless pieces, such as Bunavullin and Barr, which would be of no use, or very little, for any other purpose.

36418. Had you access to the valuation roll of the county of Argyll to see the returns made for the estate ?
—I have not consulted the valuation roll.

36419. You were merely taking what you have heard the people say?
—Yes, and what I know myself.

36420. But although there may be some question whether or not the whole estate is in one farm, I suppose there is little doubt but that the great bulk of it is in the hands of large sheep farmers ?
—Yes, I believe that. Perhaps Mr Smith, the proprietor, pays rent for a certain amount of the estate, but then he cannot be called a farmer, because he does not farm it himself. There is no resident farmer except one.

36421. Will you tell us about the people who were on the estate, were there a great number there in your younger days ?
—I don't believe there were many people evicted from that estate. That estate has preserved the people who were on it originally better than any other.

36422. The crofters who remain are as numerous in comparison as on any other estate in the neighbourhood?
—More so.

36423. Have you any further remark to make with regard to that statement ?
—No, not particularly; but I wish to state particularly that there is only one farmer on the estate.

36424. Did you know the late Dr M'Leod of Morven?
—I did; I knew him from hearing him preach in my young days.

36425. How many parishes does the district of Morven comprehend ?
—The district is all one parish.

36426. Has there not been a very great decrease in that place during the last forty or fifty years ?
—Nearly 50 per cent.

36427. Did you ever hear it stated that it was a source of great grief to Dr M'Leod that so many of the people were obliged to leave?
—Yes, I have heard it stated, and I have read it.

36427.Are you aware that he over and over again interceded in vain to prevent these depopulations ?
—Yes, I am aware of that.

36428. I suppose I need not ask you whether Morven is not considered one of the most fertile and traditionally one of the most interesting parts of the Western Highlands ?
—I believe it is considered that,

36429. May I take it for granted that you and the others connected with the district feel great grief at the present state of matters?
—Certainly. When I come from Glasgow, whenever I have a holiday, I feel it very much to see bare walls where the people used to be in pretty comfortable circumstances, and whom I remembered quite well myself.

36430. You have heard what the crofters' delegates state about the poverty of this place we are in; is it consistent with vour knowledge that there is considerable poverty?
—I know they have not stated it nearly so bad as it is.

36431. Are you aware that recently one of the trustees of the property came to reside here, and has been giving some work ?
—I am not aware of that.

36432. Don't you know that a pier was erected ?
—Yes ; but I don't know whether any of the people were employed at that pier or not.

36433. Or roads ?
—There may or there may not, I don't know.

36434. Do you know what were the circumstances under which this village was formed and stances given for houses ?
—I cannot tell. It has been pretty much the same way ever since I remember. There have been no improvements except the pier itself, so far as I see.

36435. Have some of the young men who came out of Morven in former times not got on very well in the world ?
—Some of them have in other countries, and perhaps in Glasgow and the south. They always get on as well, I believe, as people who came from any other district at any rate.

36436. We have had before us to-day the cases Acharn, Ardtornish, Glenmorven, Lochaline, and Drimnin
—-is that the whole district comprehended in Morven ?
—No, it is not.

36437. What more is there?
—The estate of Glencrepisdale and Landal.

36438. Do these belong to one proprietor ?

36439. Who is the proprietor?
—Mr Newton.

36440. Is there any one here from there ?
—No; but I am quite willing to answer any questions about it.

36441. Have the people been cleared out there?
—Yes; there is scarcely any person there but shepherds.

36442. Has that been done within the last forty or fifty years ?
—Yes, partly; but there have been no evictions recently, because there was nobody to evict.

36443. But they must have been evicted at one time?
—At one time, certainly.

36444. I don't recognise among the names of the present proprietors any single person who seems to have been originally connected with the district ?
—The Stewarts, I believe, have been connected with this district for a long time.

36445. These are the only ones ?
—I think so.

36446. In the changes which have taken place have the interests of crofting population been in any way considered ?
—I don't think so; I cannot see any signs of it.

36447. Coming along here from Ardnamurchan, there seemed to be some nice large farms and plenty of sheep ?

36448. These have been looked after?
—Yes; they have been pretty well looked after: they seem to be comfortable enough.

36449. You have considered these matters. Will you now, in one word, suggest what remedy would meet the present state of the crofting population in this district ?
—I think I would be very much inclined to take the same view as they have taken themselves in the statement.

36450. More land?
—More land, certainly; they have no land at all.

36451. Fair rent ?

36452. No disturbance as long as they pay their rent?
—Yes, and so long as they conduct themselves in a proper manner.

36453. Do you concur in these statements as the true remedy ?
I do.

36454. And the only remedy?
—Yes, in my opinion.

36455. Some people propose free emigration; what do you say to that ?
—I think there has been far too much emigration for this district at any rate. If there is much more emigration, there will be no one left at all

36456. What will then happen ?
—When I come from Glasgow I shall have no place to go to.

36457. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long was Oronsay a club farm - you say the tenants made it comfortable, how long did they possess it?
—I believe for about twenty or twenty-five years.

36458. What was it before that ?
—It may have been—a little of it—arable before that; but I know when the people went there they had to do a great deal of work.

36459. And it was held by a single tenant before that?
—It was never, so far as I remember or so far as I have heard it stated, in the hands of a large farmer until Mr M'Master got it.

36460. But the eight tenants went there; they were not born there ?
—They went at the same time.

36461. They didn't go to vacant ground, they must have gone to ground occupied by some one; was it occupied by one or two or three ?
—By two or three, I believe. But they had to reclaim the land themselves.

36462. Professor Mackinnon.
—Do you know these houses which are described as having only one apartment ?
—I know the houses.

36463. With just one apartment ?
—That is all.

36464. And there are two or three in the village of Lochaline that pay direct to the trustees ; I suppose you know that ?
—I have heard it stated in evidence.

36465. And there are others who pay to whom—to their neighbours?
—To whomsoever the property they are in belongs.

36466. And the witness stated that they were the highest rented ?

36467. Their neighbours charge higher rent than the trustees do?
—Yes ; that was stated.

36468. Do you know, from the circumstances of the people generally, that if they got this valuation of their holdings they would probably be able to take possession of them ?
—I have no doubt some of them would ; but whether they could all do so or not is a question.

36469. But you believe that some of them could?
—I am certain they could. They would be assisted by their families in Glasgow; they are all in Glasgow.

36470. And I suppose those who are away take such an interest in those who are at home that they would assist them ?

36471. Suppose a family with some means to get a piece of vacant ground now long out of cultivation, upon what terms would you propose that it should be given to them ?
—Yes, on reasonable rent, with a reasonable security that they would not be turned out when they improved
the place, and that their rent would not be raised to any excessive extent.

36472. Supposing you were to give a lease of twenty years or over, would you make it the same rent from the first year to the last year, or a graduated rent?
—I think where land has been out of cultivation for fifteen years, the rent should be less at first, until the people got two or three crops out of it.

36473. How would you suggest that the rent should be fixed?
—In the case of the landlord and the tenant agreeing themselves about it, I think that would be a very good way. In a case where they could not agree, I should suggest that it be left to be settled by somebody outside
—probably one appointed by Government for the purpose, or something of that kind.

36474. And such an one would fix the rent and the mode of its apportionment for that piece of ground ?

36475. And the length of the lease?

36476. Houses would require to be built?
—Yes ; there are no houses now.

36477. How would these houses be built? At whose expense?
—I should say at the expense of the proprietor; that is my opinion. Certainly the people may be charged as usual, perhaps, some interest for the money laid out, along with their rent.

36478. We have heard it said that when houses were built in that way by the proprietors, they were often dearer than if the people themselves had engaged to build and got assistance, and afterwards got compensation in the event of change ?
—I have no doubt in the case of a person being able to build, that would be the best way; but in the case of a man not being able to build, I think it might be settled the other way very well.

36479. That the proprietor should undertake the expense, and charge a reasonable interest ?
—Yes, charge a reasonable interest. I don't think any one would go against paying more rent if he got a good house.

36480. Is there any portion of the estate more than another suitable for cultivation?
—This place in which we are just now is very suitable, perhaps, for two or three miles, it is about the best land in Argyll.

36481. This country is very beautiful, but you don't say it is more fertile than Kintyre, for example ?
—I think if you go out and take a look through this place just now, you will see some very good land, and land suitable for crofters.

36482. Do you think it is as fertile as Kintyre ?
—I don't know; I never was there.

36483. The Chairman.
—I am perhaps not mistaken in supposing you have taken some interest in the preparation of these memorials?
—You are not mistaken, my Lord.

36484. You are cognisant of what they contain?
—Yes; I have read the statements.

36485. For Barr and Bunavullin ?

36486. A statement which has been referred to is this—' The whole of this estate, with the exception of a few worthless patches held by the crofters, is one large sheep farm.' Now, I find in the valuation roll four holdings specified—one of £75, two of £25, and one of £48?
—I don't know where they are.

36487. Do you think these holdings are correctly described as worthless patches ?
—I could not say. There are one or two farmers on the estate; I don't know what amount of ground they occupy. I know there are one or two.

36488. In the valuation roll the area of land is not given, but the rental is given, which is a pretty good test. There are four farms —£75, £25, £25, and £48 —to which I have alluded. Do you consider it is probable that these holdings are correctly described as ' worthless patches ?
—I don't know that. That may have been overlooked in the statement; it is possible it may have been. I cannot say anything as to that.

36489. I think it right to add that the gross rental of the estate, irrespective of shooting rents, is £733, and that the one farm alluded to is £430 rental, leaving a rental of £303 which has no connection with it ?
—There are, I believe, altogether twenty-three crofters on the estate. It is the only estate in this district that has, in any way at all, got a crofter population. These two or three places may have been overlooked in making out the statement, but I don't know whether they are fairly valued or not.

36490. My object is, if possible, to eliminate from this memorial, which may in the main be correct, some expressions which, I think, are ill-advised and inaccurate ?
—We have no wish that anything inaccurate should appear at all; I have not, so far as I am concerned.

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