Tiree, 7 August 1883 - Donald Macdonald and Hector Macdonald

DONALD MACDONALD, Crofter, Balamartin, assisted by HECTOR MACDONALD, Cottar and Fisherman, Balamartin (38)—examined.

33607. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have a statement to submit to the Commission ?
—[Donald Macdonald]. I have.
—Unto the Right Honourable the Royal Commission the Petition of the Crofters of the Township of Balamartin, humbly sheweth, That our grievances are—

1st, High rent, and the manner in which it was raised being unfair, and against the terms made, or rules under which the township of Balamartin was formed.

2nd, We have our common pasture or outrun diminished in extent at one end by cottars' houses, and at the other by its being annexed to the township of Balephuil.

3rd, We have to pay to the factor for sea-weed to manure our ground. We are under these said grievances, which we humbly consider to be unfair and contrary to the rules under which the township was formed, for the rollowing reasons :—
(1) At the time the township of Balamartin was first divided up into crofts—about eighty years back —the township then consisted of thirty-eight crofts, with four acres in each, with a common pasture or outrun besides, capable of holding one cow and one stirk to each croft, and the horse we keep to till the ground on the four acres. The total rent of the township then divided among the thirty-eight crofts amounted only to £60, and we had fuel-peats without extra charge. But at the time John Campbell, Esq., became factor of the island, he raised our rent from £60 to £124 yearly; and, worse still, in our then straitened circumstances—as the ground yielded us not crops of such quality as it formerly yielded, though by causes uncontrollable by us
—-he doubled our crofts, sending most of the crofters to one end of the outrun as cottars, and introduced strangers from the township of Hellipool, as he was to make a sheep-tack of that township. Therefore, upon the remainder of the crofters, numbering thirteen, it has fallen to pay that rent of £124, and the expenditure of £ 6 yearly to each crofter for coals, as we could not get any more peats, making the total amount in rent and coals payable by us £202 yearly. Moreover, year by year our crop is reduced in quality, as the soil gets more inferior in quality each year. And last year we suffered so much from floods and storms that we had at last to apply to his Grace the Duke for assistance in the shape of seed to plant our ground. We applied also to the Duke for reduction of rent, but his Grace would not grant our demand in regard to rent.

(2) If the factor evicted the crofters, we consider it very unjust that the outrun at one end should be allotted to them for houses, thereby diminishing its extent without compensation ; and we consider it very unjust as well that at the other end it should be annexed to the township of Balephuil without compensation either.

(3) Though the shore of our township is not generally liable to sea-weeds, and therefore we go to the nearest beach to obtain it, along a part of which beach the factor's ground extends, we do not in the least damage the factor's ground, as there is a road from the beach to our township without touching the factor's ground at all. So we think it just that we should not have to pay to the factor for the sea-weed; still the factor insists on payment. And we do pay for it in the shape of work given him three or four days with our carts in harvest time, and three other days in winter time manuring his ground. On this grievance as well we applied to his Grace the Duke; but he treated this petition as he did the one petitioning for reduction of rent. Our demands therefore are—

1st, Fair rent;
2nd, compensation for what of the outrun we have had taken from us and damaged;
3rd, that we shall have not to pay for sea-weed to manure our ground.

Those our said grievances and demands we submit to your Lordships, and pray: May it therefore please your
Lordships to make an inquiry thereinto, and redress our grievances accordingly.

—I wish also to read a paper containing general cases of evictions of special importance:—

1st, Neil M.'Donald, crofter at Mannal, was about thirty-four years ago, for no well-grounded reasons, evicted from his home and farm by the factor, John Campbell, Esq. He had no other home to go to, and was forbidden by the factor to build a house in any part of the island. The factor also threatened with instant eviction any crofter or cottar who might out of pity afford him even one night's shelter from the cold. So his only place of shelter was a small boat turned upside down, with a hole in the centre for a chimney, and some straw laid round the openings to prevent the snow drift from perishing himself and little ones. One neighbour, who out of pity was moved to take and give his one children shelter in his house, was instantly summoned before the factor, and severely reprimanded for being so humane.

2nd, Hector M'Donald, Balamartin (crofter), was some time afterwards evicted in the same manner. Forced to leave his house and home, having no house to go to, every individual crofter and cottar in Tyree were, on the threat of eviction, forbidden to give him even one night's shelter. His wife being nigh her confinement, he for her sought shelter in his sister's house; but the farmer on whose croft the sister's house stood (John Sinclair, Banapool) was instructed by the factor to turn the evicted family out. In the said John Sinclair's cart the wife and family were removed, and the woman, while being driven in the cart, by the way was delivered of a child, as no one would be allowed to shelter her during the time of her delivery.

3rd, Hugh M'Lean, crofter, Mannal. This man, who was blind, was about nineteen years ago disgracefully evicted as the above. Having no house to go to, he was still in his own home. The factor then sent men to strip the roof off that home by means of instruments of iron. He then removed to the barn, in which lay a quantity of grain. The same men were then sent back with orders to strip the barn too; and the poor blind man, with his crippled wife, and no sons to help him, as of the sons he had two were drowned some time before, and his only other son was insane in the asylum, was cruelly turned out and left at the roadside.

4th, Alexander M'Donald, a blind man, was evicted while John Campbell, Esq., was factor of the island, by whose orders men were sent to have this man's house stripped while the poor man was in bed and unable to leave it. He was then removed by some friends to the barn, but the factor ordered the roof to be taken off the
barn too; and thus the sightless man was rendered houseless. And the only reason for evicting this man was simply to give his holding to one of the factor's favourites. The man then became a burden to the parish, and from that time till now his maintenance cost the parish about £600

—I am Gilchrist M'Donald. Since I can remember, my father was a crofter in Balamartin. About nineteen years ago, although being only one year's rent in arrears, he, and a neighbour who was only 50s. in arrears, were evicted. The latter from his own croft. This was done in order to give both the crofts to the factor's servant man, which servant was not a native of the island. Some weeks before the time to leave the house I paid the rent, but on the appointed day (as we were still in the house, not having another to go to) some men
—others refused to do it—by order of the factor were sent to the house, and these men by means of an iron bar broke open the door, turned us and all our things there and then out of the house. My father was about sixty years of age, and without the croft was unable to do anything for himself. My mother, who was about the same age, was imbecile, and in that state was carried by them out of bed and laid at the road side. As the factor would not grant me leave to build a small house to shelter them, I had to remove them to Glasgow, which city not agreeing with them, I was obliged to return with them to Tyree again, but the only house I could get was an old kiln belonging to the crofters of Balamartin. The little I got for the stock on the farm was all spent in maintaining us before getting leave from the factor to build a house and had it ready for dwelling in.
—I lost my holding in the same way as the above.
—DONALD M' LEAN, formerly tenant of Balamartin.

—[Hector Macdonald]. I have a paper to read on behalf of the cottars and fisherman of Balamartin:
In the township of Balamartin there are at present thirty-two families, consisting in all 172 individuals. Our fathers and even some of ourselves had crofts which, without any reason being assigned, were taken from us, and that without any compensation having been given us for houses or for any improvements affected by us. It became necessary for us, therefore, to build other houses for ourselves and families at the seashore (that is), on the common belonging to the crofters of Balamartin, and for these houses some of us had to pay rent. Our ordinary employment is fishing, but for want of a safe harbour wherein to preserve our boats, we are compelled to use much smaller boats than is required for our fishing coast. Some of us have tried larger boats, but for the want of a safe place to keep them some of them - were driven into pieces upon the rocks and others were sunk while riding at anchor. We wish it to be clearly understood that it is next to impossible for us to make a living for ourselves and families without such a harbour. For the want of such a harbour our lives are often in great danger, especially on the act of landing. As a rule, we can only continue to fish for about six months of the year. We find it impossible under these circumstance —that is, by fishing alone —to maintain ourselves and our families in any way like a comfortable position. What we want therefore is a few acres of land on which to graze a cow and plant a few potatoes, and also a safe harbour erected for our fishing boats at the south end of the island. We are all quite willing to pay a reasonable rent for the land, and of course we are also prepared to pay reasonable dues for a safe harbour.
—HECTOR MACDONALD, Balamartin, delegate.

33608. Are you quite sure that the rent of the place was raised by Campbell, at one swoop, from £60 to £124?
—[Donald M’Donald]. No, not at one time ; it was raised twice.

33609. By the same man ?

33610. Did he assign any reason for doing it ?
—No reason whatever.

33611. Was it at that time that Hillipool was made into a sheep farm?
—The rent was raised a little before that time.

33612. But at the time Hillipool was made into a sheep farm did you get any reduction ?

33613. Were your peats upon the pasture from which you were deprived ?

33614. Then how were you obliged to buy coals instead of peats?
—The peat bank was exhausted ; there is no peat in the place to speak of.

33615. Last year you say you presented two petitions to the Duke of Argyle, one for seed and the other for reduction of rent; the one about the reduction of rent was not granted, what was done with the other ?
—We got the seed; but we were told we would get no reduction in the rent.

33616. Was it the understanding that you were to pay back the value of the seed ?
—We promised to pay it.

33617. And do you think it will be asked of you ?
—Wo cannot tell; it has not been asked yet

33618. Do you pay the factor any money for the sea-ware?
—He does not ask money, but he asks us for some work ; and we do not pay this factor except what we paid to the previous tenants of the farm. The shore and the sea-ware belong to the farm of Hillipool, and we have paid them for the sea-ware all along.

33619. In the form of labour ?

33620. What value in money would you put upon this labour?
—It would be about 30s. and

33621. Do you get anything from the factor while you are doing this; do you get any money or any allowance in the way of food ?
—We get our food well.

33622. Do you consider that upon a great estate like Tyree it is worth the while or proper that tenants should pay for sea-ware at all ?
—Well, we don't think that we either injure his land or the roads, but merely gather the drift ware that comes upon the beach; we don't think any value ought to be exacted for it.

33623. Can you labour your crofts without this sea-ware?

33624. Can you pay your rent if you do not labour and manure your crofts ?
—No; unless we work them and manure them we cannot pay our rents.

33625. Would it not appear then that the deprivation of sea-ware is rather a prohibition of labouring your farms at all?
—We cannot say that.

33626. You state that you want a fair rent and compensation for the outrun which has been taken from you and damaged, and that you shall not have to pay for sea-weed to manure the ground; don't the people want to get back the land which is in Hillipool ?

33627. Why did you not put that in the paper ?
—We never were in Hillipool.

33628. Would yon like to get the common pasture back which was taken from you ?
—Yes; but a great portion of it is filled with cottars.

33629. Are the cottars that are here a great burden upon the crofters ?
—Certainly, they have deprived us of our grazing.

33630. Are you able to pay your rent out of your croft, or do you labour otherwise ?
—I must needs pay the rent out of the proceeds of the croft, for there is no means of earning wages in this land.

33631. You do not go fishing or abroad then ?
—No, not now.

33632. What is your rent ?
—£11, 7s. 6d. I have three crofts.

33633. Are the people whom you represent much like yourself, with the same grievances ?
—Yes, practically the same.

33634. What would you consider would be a proper rent for you to pay now under the circumstances you are in ?
—I would be very glad to get it at the rent my father paid, about £4, 10s. —the three crofts for which I now pay £11, 7s. 6d.

33635. Sheriff Nicolson (to Hector Macdonald).
—How many cottars are there at Balamartin ?
—Thirty-two families.

33636. Are all of you people belonging to the place ?

33637. Were some of you removed from other places to Balamartin?

33638. What places ?
—They were put out of Hillipool.

33639. How long since ?
—Some of them before 1 was born, or about that time ; some others since.

33640. And there are some of you who had crofts which were taken from you ?

33641. To whom were they given ?
—The factor's servant got the one that my father had anyhow, and his neighbour's as well.

33642. Was your father in arrears ?
—Thirty shillings.

33643. What was the rent ?
—I cannot tell.

33644. You were removed from the houses as well as from the land ?
—-Not at that time; our houses were old; but a neighbour was removing from his houses. They were new and good, and there was only one man going in, and he occupied these houses. Afterwards, when our own houses got bad, we had to build them again.

33645. How many people had to remove from their own houses to build new ones ?
—I cannot tell.

33646. What sort of houses have you ?
—Thatched houses covered over with felt; others with ordinary thatch,

33647. Are they not as good as ordinary crofters' houses in Tyree?
—Quite as good.

33648. How many rooms have you in them ?

33649. What does it cost you to build a house of that kind?
—We cannot tell; it was ourselves quarried the stones and built them.

33650. And did none of those who were put out of their houses and built new ones get any compensation, for the old ones, or assistance to build the new ones ?
—I did not get a penny whatever, and I did not hear of any other person that did.

33651. Did you not ask it of the factor?
—No, we did not ask for any assistance, and the reason of it was this, we were asked to leave the stone and wood of the old house for the new comer, and we thought when we were asked that there was no use asking for any assistance at all. It is but right to say we did not leave it, however; we took it away with us.

33652. How much land has each of the thirty-two cottars ?
—The high road.

33653. No land at all ?
—Nothing whatever.

33654. Not even a bit of ground for potatoes?
—Not the breadth of the soles of our feet.

33655. Your living is by fishing—what kind of fishing ?
—Cod and ling, lobsters, and all kinds of fish about the shore.

33656. Do you go far to fish?
—Sometimes the length of fifteen miles off the shore.

33657. Who takes the fish from you ?
—Some send to Glasgow; some sell it at the shops.

33658. You get a regular market?

33659. What do you get for the cod and ling?
—We get £26, 10s. to £28, 10s. per ton for the ling, and £23 per ton for the cod.

33660. That is for dried salt fish ?

33661. Is that a good price?
—Yes; we never had it so good, except last year.

33662. Do you fish for herring also ?
—No, we have no herring boats; we have no place to keep them.

33663. Are all your boats small?
—Comparatively small; they are 16 to 26 feet keel

33664. In other parts of the islands they have fine large boats, with which they go to Barra and the east coast?
—Yes; but we have none here, because we cannot keep them.

33665. Could you afford to buy such boats if you had a good harbour for them ?
—Yes, some of us could.

33666. What kind of harbour would you propose?
—A harbour of refuge.

33667. A pier and breakwater, or simply a pier ?
—We would require a breakwater as well as a pier.

33668. Could it be made of stones in the place ?
—There are plenty of stones in the place.

33669. Gould it be made strong enough with hewn stones and cement?
—I think it could be made of concrete strong enough.

33470. Have you any idea what it would cost ?

33671. But you would be willing to pay something for the cost in the way of dues, would you ?
—Yes, we would.

33672. The Chairman.
—I understood you to say you had received no assistance from the proprietor towards building your house?
—Yes; no assistance was granted.

33673. Did any of the other people receive any assistance?

33674. I understood you to say you had received no land from the proprietor ?
—No, nothing.

33675. Nor any of the other people?
—No ; not of those cottars I have named.

33676. Did you ever receive any work or wages from the proprietor?
—Not in my day.

33677. Or did any of the other people receive work and wages from the proprietor ?
—I believe the factor employs a few of them.

33678. What description of work ?
—Drains and ditches.

33679. Have you ever received any assistance towards the purchase of boats, nets, or apparatus, or any assistance towards the industry of fishing, from the proprietor ?
—All that I can ever remember that he sent to Tyree in connection with the fishing was one boat, with its complement of herring nets.

33680. Has the proprietor expended any money in making a pier or harbour of any description in this island since you can remember?
—Not a penny ever since I remember.

33681. We see here present a great number of young, strong men : are any of the people away fishing at present, or are they all here ?
—-Yes, there are many of them away; some at the east coast fishing, some on board steamers, and some in all quarters of the earth.

33682. Do many of them go to the Lowlands for agricultural labour or work for wages ?
—Yes, but the greater number of them go to sea.

33683. In ships ?
—Steamers, and ships too.

33684. Do you think most of the people of the cottar class make their living by fishing and by other work in the island, or do they make it by going away to other places ?
—I can speak better, of course, of my own case, and I obtain the whole of my livelihood as a fisherman. I know very well that the people send home assistance to their parents here; but I believe the greater portion of their livelihood is taken from the sea round this coast here.

33685. Have you ever had the misfortune to lose any of your relatives at sea by drowning ?

33686. Are there any widows now in the island of men drowned at sea ?
—Yes, there may be perhaps one or two, but I was only a young lad at the time; it was considerably over twenty years ago —it was not out of my township, but out of the township of Balephuil. Since that time there
was a boat with a crew of five lost at Skerryvore lighthouse, twelve or fifteen miles off the shore here.

33687. In cases of that sort, when people fall into poverty, are they kindly treated—does the factor assist them ?
—When this great disaster occurred I was only a boy, and I cannot very well remember; but a brother of my own was drowned off the shore two years ago, and my mother was a widow, and there was nothing done on that occasion.

33688. When the people fall into poverty and go on to the poor's roll, are they well and kindly treated by the parochial authorities ?
—I cannot very well tell; I know that the paupers complain, but that may very well happen without there being good ground for it. It is the nature of some of them to complain. Besides, I am at the sea, and don't know very well what may happen.

33689. In cases of sickness, is the parochial medical officer here ?
—Yes, certainly.

33690. Is the medical officer kind and attentive to the people ?
—Yes, very.

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