Tiree, 7 August 1883 - Donald Mcdougall

DONALD M'DOUGALL, Crofter, Balphuil (52)—examined.

33421. The Chairman.
—Have you been elected a delegate?

33422. Were there a good number of people present?
—Yes, a great many.

33423. Have you a written statement to produce ?
—Yes, but we wish to say something before that. We wish to know whether it it true that an assurance is being given to crofters and cottars in giving their evidence before this Commission from proprietors and factors.

33424. Such an assurance has been given in many places by proprietors and factors, and I will now ask whether there is any one present who will give an assurance in regard to the island of Tyree ?
—[Mr M'Diarmid]. I am local factor to his Grace the Duke of Argyle.

33425. Do you feel enabled to give an assurance to the people here present that no one will suffer prejudice in consequence of what he says here on this occasion?
—No, I cannot give any such assurance. I did not ask for it, and I was not told to give it.

33426. You don't think you are, knowing the disposition and character of the proprietor of the island, enabled to give such an assurance on your own responsibility ?
—I would say the Duke of Argyle won't do anything against any man who will tell the truth.

33427. Are you able or not, from your knowledge of the character of the proprietor, to give a positive assurance that no prejudice will occur to anyone on account of what is said here to-day?
—I am not going to say that.

33128. (To Witness).
—It is not in the power of the Commission to give you any assurance of the kind. The Commission cannot interfere between you and your proprietor, or between you and the law. Whatever you state, therefore, now will be at your own risk and on your own responsibility. But from what we know of the character of the Duke of Argyle, we cannot believe—we do not believe —that any prejudice could occur to you on account of what you say.
—[Witness]. We live in that part of Scotland where most of that suffering is taking place, and oppression and slavery. We are poor people. We cannot give any of the statements that we came here prepared to make unless we receive the assurance that no crofter will be evicted from his croft, or cottar put out of his house, for telling what we have to tell; and that is the truth, and nothing but the truth.
—[Mr M'Diarmid]. I have had this moment put into my hands a letter from the Duke's chamberlain. He says the crofters are at liberty to make any statement they have to make without any fear of after consequences.
— [Witness]. What I have to say is, that we never had much fear of the good man the proprietor, because factors here were his eyes, his ears, and his mouth in his dealings with us. And, concerning the house of Argyle, we desire that whatever we say, anything that we complain of as having been unjustly done, will be put to the credit of the factors, and not to the house of Argyle. My reason for saying so is that we get letters from Kintyre —I don't know if cottars get such information, but we crofters do —if we have any complaint to make in respect of rent, or any injustice done to us, we must go and state our case in such and such a place in Kintyre. These letters are written in English, in the name of the Duke.

33129. Is the complaint this, that when you have anything to state you are obliged to state it in writing in English to a factor living at a different place ?
—No; we do not complain of that at all. We think that this is an indication on the part of the proprietor that he is willing to hear and redress our grievances. That is our understanding of it.

33130. Have you got a written statement on the part of your township which you wish to communicate to the Commission ?
— Unto the Right Honourable the Royal Commission, the Petition of the Crofters of the Township of Balephuil, humbly sheweth, That our grievances are
—1st, We have been deprived about thirty years ago, by John Campbell, Esq., the then factor of the island, of a part of Ben Hynish, which from the time of our forefathers belonged to the common pasture of the township of Balephuil, thereby reducing the stock on each croft by one horse, one cow, and one stirk less.

2nd, We do now pay, and had been paying, since we have been deprived of that said part of our common pasture rent as high as when we have been in possession of that part

3rd, We do not possess any shore where to obtain sea-weed wherewith to manure our ground, since we have been deprived of that said part of our common pasture, if we be not allowed by the good-will of the occupier of that part of our common pasture we have been deprived of to have the sea-weed.

4th, We pay road rates, though we were ourselves keeping up till this year about three miles of road. We are under these disadvantages, while we humbly think we ought not to be under any of them. for the following reasons:—

(1) We had our rent paid at and up till the time we have been deprived of the said part of our common pasture; and, moreover, we have been deprived of it without summonses being served upon us.

(2) If we have been deprived of that said part of our common pasture, we were entitled to have our rents reduced in proportion, as our ground could not then raise better or more bountiful crops than when we were in possession of said part of our common pasture.

(3) From the time of our forefathers the township of Balephuil possessed a shore from which to obtain seaweed to manure the ground, till we lost possession of it by having been deprived of that said part of our common pasture, as the shore belongs to that piece of land.

(4) As we are assessed for road money, we consider it very unjust that we should have ourselves to keep up any road, as we have done for thirty years. Therefore our demands are—

1st, To get back that part of our common pasture of which we have been deprived, or rent reduced in proportion to extent of land taken from us, and £1176 for loss occasioned us by having been deprived of said part of our common pasture for thirty years.

2nd, That we shall be entitled to have a right to foresaid shore, with road thereto for sea-weed to manure our ground.

3rd, That as we are assessed for road money, and we were ourselves keeping up about three miles of road till this year, we shall get £360 for the work we have done on the road in that length of time —thirty years. These 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.
—DONALD M'DOUGALL, delegate.'

33431. You say that thirty years ago you were deprived of a portion of your common pasture, and had no reduction of rent; did you receive any other advantage or benefit from the proprietor in connection with the deprivation of your land ?

33432. You complain that, in consequence of the common pasture being taken away, you have no proper access to the shore ?
—That is so.

33433. But although you do not possess the shore, do you go to the shore practically to get sea-weed ?
—Yes, we do ; but that is through the good will of the person who got the ground.

33434. Has the tenant of the ground ever prevented you, or put any difficulty in your way, in all those thirty years ?
—There was a gate erected to prevent our passage, for fear of spoiling the grass. That gate was closed, and we were not allowed to pass. He did not keep the sea-ware from us, but he did not wish us to go trespassing through his ground, spoiling the grass.

33435. As matter of fact, do you habitually go for the ware?
—We have no other way but that of getting to the shore and getting sea-weed.

33436. And do you habitually go without any impediment at this moment?
—Yes, we do.

33437. Do you make any payment to the tenant on account of the sea-ware ?
—We do not, because it belongs to ourselves, if we get it out.

33438. Is there a sufficient quantity on the shore for the use of your lands ?

33439. You complain that you pay road money, and yet that you are obliged to keep up a particular road of three miles; who made this road of three miles long ?
—I don't know who made it, but we measured it.

33440. Is it a made road, or is it merely a natural road across the ground ?
—It is a made highway from quay to quay.

33441. Do the crofters expend any money upon it, or do you merely apply some labour ?
—We pay our rates for the general public highways, and we keep up this road besides with our own labour, although it is entirely outside the boundaries of our farm.

33442. But it leads to the shore. How much labour does it come to for each occupier in the year ?
—I believe it comes up to about twenty days a year for each crofter, with a horse and cart —nearly that, anyhow.

33443. Do you mean that each crofter has a cart and horse engaged in the labour ?

33444. For twenty days ?
—Yes. It may be ten days one year, and twenty or more than twenty another year.

33445. You say that thirty years ago a portion of your pasture was taken away; has any of your pasture or arable ground been taken away since that ?

33446. During the last thirty years has the rent of your crofts been increased?
—Yes, it was twice raised.

33447. What stock do the crofters keep now on a full croft ?
—I keep two cows and two horses.

33448. Young cattle ?
—I have no young cattle at present.

33449. Any sheep?
—No ; no crofter in the island has sheep.

33450. What rent do you pay ?
—£15, 2s.

33451. How many acres of arable land have you ?
—Sixteen acres.

33452. What is the area of the hill pasture for the whole township ?
—I cannot tell that.

33453. Is it very large ?
—It is not large now, since we were deprived of a part of it.

33454. Is the road to the shore, on which you expend so much work, only useful for your township, or is it of use to and used by other people ?
—Yes, it is useful to the country side.

33455. Who uses it ?
—It leads to the quay.

33456. Does anybody else work upon it, or only the people of your township ?
—No one else does, or has ever done, any work upon that road but us.

33457. What goes on at this quay? Is it for fishermen or the exportation of cattle ?
— It is for fishermen.

33458. Is that for the fishermen of your own township, or of other townships?
—It was originally built for our township, but it is often used by people from all parts of the country, who run in there in bad weather. In connection with this quay, I have to mention that nine crofters and some cottars who had their lands near this quay were moving to another part of our hill pasture. The pretext that was used for taking the hill pasture from us was those nine cottars that were moving from the quay. The place was cleared, and now when we go upon a rough day there is no person to hold a rope.

33459. Have any cottars within the last thirty years been brought in and put upon you in your present township ?
—Yes, some even since that time; there was all that number, and there have been some since.

33460. Were these cottars the natural increase of your own population, or were they brought in from the outside ?
—They belonged to our own township. There were some that came from the outside as well. Some of
those came from some ground cleared by the factor to make a farm for himself.

33461. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who got the land when it was taken away—the whole of the hill pasture thirty years ago ?
—It was the tacks man of Hynish who got it from us, and now Mr M'Quarie has got it.

33462. Who is Mr M'Quarie?
—One of the tacksmen of the place.

33463. Is he a large tacksman ?
—Yes; he has two large tacks.

33464. What do you want to say in addition ?
— That this factor that cleared our place thirty years ago got the management of the property, but ordained a statute, like that of the Medes and Persians, that no one should have either a sheep or a pig, for fear that these sheep of ours would break in upon the large farms. He went round also among us, holding a paper in the one hand and a notice to quit in the other, and he told us that unless we signed this paper, the effect of which was that we would require to be obedient to anything and everything which either he or the Duke of Argyle would order us to do, we would have to quit the place. We signed the paper, otherwise we would have to quit. After we signed the paper, his mode of procedure was to raise our rents excessively, our idea being that he did not mean to raise our rents because he thought the place was worth the rents, but because he thought he would get us to follow our neighbours to foreign places and give up the crofts. That day we would have signed ourselves out into the sea, but that alternative was not put before us; and what we wish now to bring under your notice is, that while we live in a land of law and liberty—it gladdens our heart that our country is a country of law and liberty—still neither the law nor the liberty reached this estate. We were in a state of slavery and oppression. We have heard, but we are not quite certain whether it is the case, that it is the Duke's desire that those places which were cleared by the removal of our neighbours to foreign places and some to the sea should be distributed among us. If that had been the case, it would have been good for us—if such a policy had been pursued —but it was not. Instead of that policy being pursued, those vacant farms were consolidated into large farms. There are ten of them now upon the island, and upon eight of these there were crofters in old times—before Mr Campbell's day.

33465. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What is the size of the large farms you refer to?
—I believe the smallest of them is about £100; the highest is about £400.

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