Tiree, 7 August 1883 - Hugh Macdiarmid

HUGH MACDIARMID, Sub-Factor to the Duke of Argyll, Tyree (38) —examined.

33881. Mr Cameron.
—Where do you belong to ?

33882. How long have you been resident here as sub-factor ?
—Seven years.

33883. Who is the head factor ?
—Mr Wylie.

33884. You are the only factor here ?
—The Duke has no factor here, only a sub-factor.

33885. Do you represent the Duke here ?

33886. Who was your immediate predecessor?
—Mr Geikie, who was chamberlain of Tyree.

33887. Then the dignity of the office was lowered at the time of your appointment, in succession to Mr Geikie?
—Yes, it is more centred in Inveraray.

33888. Do you know the cause which determined the Duke to do that ?

33889. How long was Mr Geikie here as resident chamberlain?
—Twelve years, I believe.

33890. Do you hold any land from the Duke?
—Two farms.

33891. Did you take those farms when you first came to the island, or did you get them subsequently ?
—I took one of them six years ago, and another a year last Whitsunday.

33892. Who held the first farm which you took from the Duke ?
—A Mr Campbell.

33893. Did you take it as it was in his possession ?

33894. And with regard to the second farm, who held that?
—Messrs Sproat and Cameron, writers, Tobermory.

33895. Was that also held as you got it ?
—Exactly in the same way.

33896. Has anything been done in the way of consolidation of farms at the expense of smaller holders during your occupancy of the place you hold?
—None whatever; an occasional crofter may have got two crofts instead of having one before.

33897. You say there were not many instances of that ?

33898. And where it occurred was it in consequence of a vacancy arising from natural causes in a croft, or from removal or eviction ?
—It was on account of natural causes in most of the cases, because the people emigrated.

33899. Has there been much emigration during the time you have been here ?
—Very little, perhaps fifty or sixty people.

33900. Do you know if the people who have emigrated have written to their friends at home since their departure ?
—Oh, yes.

33901. Have you happened to hear what reports they gave of their new position ?
—Most of them very favourable, and would not like to return.

33902. But has that encouraged other people to go abroad and join them ?
—No, very few have gone; I may say none at all.

33903. Do you find the tendency for people to go and seek their fortunes abroad more extensive than it was, or less so ?
—I cannot say; for the short time I have been here I cannot say I know any difference.

33904. In point of fact, the consolidation of farms which we have heard of this morning took place in your predecessor's time, and not in yours ?
—Yes, not my immediate predecessor.

33905. With regard to leases, have any of tho smaller tenants got leases on this estate ?

33906. But larger tenants have ?

33907. What is the limit below which leases are not granted?
—About £100 is the lowest rent where there is any lease.

33908. Have you heard any general wish expressed by the smaller tenants to obtain leases?

33909. Is there much improvable land in the island?
—No, very little.

33910. Most of it has been already reclaimed ?

33911. Is any reclamation going on at present ?

33912. With regard to piers, I believe representations have been made to the Duke from the people that if piers could be erected it would be a great advantage to them, and we have also heard evidence to-day to the
same effect; do you know if any estimate has ever been made by the Duke as to the cost of erecting a suitable pier?
—Oh, yes, he has got two estimates made very recently—one last year and the other the year before.

33913. By engineers?
—Yes, from eminent engineers.

33914. What was the outcome of these—what report did they submit to the Duke ?
—They would not guarantee that the pier would stand.

33915. Were they not left frae to select the place where they thought it would be best?

33916. And to submit designs of a suitable, substantial pier?
—Yes, and these were submitted to the Duke.

33917. And do you say that the engineers submitted designs of a pier with the remark that it would not stand?
—They were afraid it would not stand, it is so very stormy.

33918. And was there an estimate submitted at the same time of the cost ?

33919. Do you know what it came to?

33920. You are not able to give any opinion upon that ?

33921. Have there been any raisings of rent of late years —since your occupancy of the place you now hold?
—There might be an isolated case, but no general raising of rent.

33922. No general revaluation or raising of rent?
—Not at all.

33923. Are the prices of stock to any extent higher than seven years ago ?
—Yes, the price of stock has been very high this year.

33924. But I mean not this year only, but has the price of stock been gradually rising ?
—No, I think not. This year and the end of last year was exceptional; three or four years ago it was exceptional.

33925. Is much stock exported by tenants?

33926. What do they export besides live stock?
—I cannot say there is much of anything except live stock.

33927. How many times in the week do steamers come ?
—Once a week. There are three steamers, and they call once a week; they all call on the same day.

33928. You have three steamers all through the year, once a week each way ?

33929. Have there been any remissions of rent in consequence of distress or other causes of late years ?

33930. Was there any remission of rent or reduction of rent last year in consequence of distress ?

33931. Was there any great distress last year?
—Not very.

33932. From the failure of the crops ?
—No very great distress.

33933. As far as you have heard, was it equal to what it was in other parts of the West Highlands ?
—I don't think so.

33934. They were assisted by seed potatoes to a certain extent ?
—Yes, to a certain extent.

33935. Was the cost of these potatoes repaid, or is it expected it will be repaid ?
—It is not repaid yet.

33936. Is it expected to be repaid?
—In some cases.

33937. Cases where the people are sufficiently well off to do so?

33938. We heard something in the course of the evidence about sea-ware. Can you tell us what the regulations of the estate are in regard to the people getting sea-ware ?
—The complaint was about that farm I got last Whitsunday. It seems the tenants of Balamartin always give a certain amount of labour for getting sea-ware off this farm, and the same thing was attached to it when I got it. I did not make any new rules to them.

33939. When you got the farm you found that these tenants were bound to give so many days' labour on the farm ?

33910. And in return for the labour they were allowed to take away sea-ware, was that it ?

33911. What is the position of affairs now?
—It is still the same.

33912. That they give the labour and take away sea-ware in return?

33913. Was that included in the rent which you give for the farm ?
—Not at all, it was always understood between the tenant of that farm and those smaller tenants.

33914. But I mean is it included in the bargain which you made at the time you entered into the farm ?
—That is a bargain with the proprietor.

33915. It was one of the advantages you got when you took the farm?
—No, I did not discover it until after I took the farm.

33916. Then you discovered yourself to bo in a better position than when you took the farm ?
—I suppose I did.

33917. How many days' labour are these people supposed to give ?
—Two or three days in the year, and they have to put up fifteen carts of sea-ware off the shore.

33918. For you ?

33919. How many days' labour would that take ?
—About two days.

33950. How far have they to carry the sea-ware ?
—In some instances about perhaps 500 or 600 yards, and in other places longer than that.

33951. Have they ever complained to you at all about that or objected to it ?
—We talked about it.

33952. Did it ever occur to you to suggest to the Duke that it would be very much to the comfort and contentment of the people if an alteration in the terms of the lease was made by which this could be done away with ?
—No. I may state that I find the arrangement very troublesome, and if they can do without the wrack I will do without their work. I have often sent my carts there and could not get a pound of wrack on the shore.

33953. They give their labour in exchange for the right of taking the sea-ware ?

33954. Can no arrangements be made by which a limited 'portion of the coast should be set apart for them to take sea-ware, reserving to your farm what would be required for its proper manuring.
—That would be a very difficult arrangement to make, because the sea-ware all comes in a sort of common, and it would be difficult to arrange to give them a share of it—in fact, almost impossible.

33955. Can you tell us anything about the kelp manufacture ?
—The kelp manager is here himself, and perhaps might give you some evidence.

33956. Have you any observation to make upon the evidence which you have heard given—did you take any notes ?
—Yes, but I wish to go to Bunessan, where Mr Wylie will be; I have been taking notes for him.

33957. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—I don't know what your position exactly is here; is your advice accepted in the letting of farms ?
—No, I don't let farms at all.

33958. What are your duties as sub-factor?
—Just doing any work through the estate and collecting the rents once a year.

33959. And you superintend any expenditure?

33960. Do you not give any advice if a farm falls vacant?
—I am quite admitted to do that if the Duke or chamberlain asks me.

33961. Mr Wylie takes his information from you?
—To a certain extent.

33962. Do you know what the policy of the estate is when small crofts fall vacant; is it the policy of the estate to join them together; and when large farms fall vacant is it the policy to enlarge them or to restrict their size ? Is there any desire to alter the present character of the holding, or is the desire to retain the present character of the holding ?
—The character of the holding is retained very much.

33963. There is no wish to enlarge a croft?
—In some cases they have been enlarged, and in some cases they have been reduced.

33964. What do you consider a suitable size of croft on which a man can make a living and pay his rent fairly?
—It is a difficult question to answer; I would rather not answer it.

33965. With regard to the character of the cultivation here; you yourself are a considerable farmer ; is yours principally a grazing or an arable farm ?
—It is a grazing farm now, but it was arable, a good deal of it, at one time.

33966. You are not an arable farmer?

33967. You are not competent to give an answer as to cultivation?
—I am not an arable farmer here.

33968. Have you been so elsewhere ?

33969. Do you think the cultivation here is as good as it might be amongst the crofters ?
—I think they are very fair farmers here.

33970. I saw the lands here were sown with old grey oats and rye, and that the crops were thin and light; do you think nothing better can be made of the soil than is produced ?
—You say you have seen old grey oats and rye; I don't think anything else would grow here in the land you
have seen that in, except barley.

33971. The soil is very inferior —or is it the climate?
—The soil is very light; there is something in the nature of it that wont grow large oats.

33972. But it is also very thin in the stalk?
—That must arise from the soil, I think.

33973. Not from too thin sowing or want of manuring?
—It might arise from all these; it depends very much on the farmer.

33974. But generally you think the soil is well farmed?
—Yes, I think the people here are good farmers on the whole.

33975. I am astonished to find that a twelve acre crofter keeps two horses; to my mind that would be the ruin of any man who adopted it ?
—They all keep two horses here as a rule.

33976. Do you think that consistent with good farming?
—They seem to make some money out of their horses. They keep them as a source of revenue.

33977. As breeding stock ?

33978. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do you think there has been no rise of rents for the last thirty years ?
—There has been no general rise that I am aware of. There may have been before my time; I could not speak to that.

33979. Can you say what the present rental is ?
—About £5400.

33980. I find it stated in a return given in Sir John M'Neill's report in 1851 that the rental was £2636 ?
—I could not say as to that

33981. That looks as if it had been doubled in that time ?
—So it seems.

33982. Do you know whether the increase was on the bigger farms or the same all over ?
—I think the most of the increase was on the larger farm decidedly.

33983. What is the highest rent paid in the island for one farm ?
—Between £400 and £500.

33984. How many are there paying a rent above £100?
—I believe from ten to a dozen or so.

33985. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Is it the rule all over the Duke's estate that nobody gets a lease paying rent under £100?
—I am not aware whether that rule exists.

33986. You stated it did apply to Tyree ?
—They have never been asked for.

33987. It would appear from the questions which have been put to you that the rental has been doubled within the last thirty years ; are you able to specify any improvements that have been done upon the estate during those thirty years ?
—No; I have been here such a short time I cannot speak to that.

33988. Was your predecessor styled chamberlain of Tyree ?

33989. Why did he get that appellation —is there anything in the titles to justify that ?
—I don't know; I only know the fact.

33990. Were you brought up as a factor ?
—No, as a farmer.

33991. Did you come here more as a farmer than as a representative of the estate ?
—Well, I am very fond of farming.

33992. But was it offered as an inducement to you to take the farm ?
—Not at all.

33993. But which occurred first; did you take the farm first or were you appointed to the office ?
—I was appointed to the office first. That was a year before I had a farm.

33994. You say you have changed the first farm you got from an arable farm to a grazing farm, can you tell me how many acres of that farm have run out?
—-I don't think I stated that; it was once cultivated, but not by me.

33995. How much upon that first farm ?
—Very little of that has been cultivated.

33996. Is the second one cultivated ?

33997. How many acres are there upon it ?
—Eight hundred acres altogether.

33998. How much cultivated ?
—I really never thought of that ; I could not say.

33999. Have you not got an estate plan ?
—Yes, but I have never made up the acres of that. I have the Ordnance Survey maps, but I never made up the acres of arable land, because it is all under grazing now.

34000. Have you any such rule in Tyree, which I understand prevails in some other places, that when a husband dies leaving a widow without a son twenty-one years of age, the widow must remove ?
—No, not at all; there are a great many widows here who have crofts.

34001. Would you approve of such a rule ?
—No, I don't think so.

34002. Do you think there are too many people in Tyree yet ?
—I don't know ; I would not like to answer that question.

34003. But with regard to their circumstances, within the last seven years, are they better off now than then, or more contented ?
—I cannot say that I see much difference.

34004. Can you explain why it is there is such a large audience here to-day ?
—I suppose it is greatly out of curiosity.

34005. You won't attribute it to a deeper ground ?
—They will have an interest in the Commission coming here ; it is very natural that they should come and see what is going on.

34006. Do you think they have any grievances ?
—I would not like to answer that question. I have found them always very nice people.

34007. You can give them a good character ?
—Yes, I can.

34008. There is no public house, I understand, upon the island ?

34009. Is that not considered a grievance ?
—I think it is a very good thing there is not.

34010. What do people say about it ?
—I have never heard them complain.

34011. How long is it since it has been done away with ?
—I could not say.

34012. Was it before your time ?
—Oh, yes, some time before.

34013. What does a person do who is ill, and who may be recommended to have something of the nature of stimulant ?
—I suppose they may get it from a neighbour.

34011. But where will the neighbour get it ?
—Well, there are ways and means always—by having it in the house, they will get it from the
34015. There is no licence in the place?.

34016. There was a licence—probably more than one—at one time?
—I suppose there was one at one time.

34017. Was the licence taken away on the ipse dixit of the Duke or at the wish of the people ?
—I don't know. It was before my time, and I never inquired.

34018. Supposing this were done, not by request of the people but by the wish of the Duke himself, would it not indicate that a person taking that step was one exercising a close interest in the people ?
—I believe it was for their good the Duke did it ; there is no doubt about that, because I believe he would get a large rent for a public house there.

34019. That is one instance of the interest he takes in the people ?
—There is no doubt it was done for their good.

34020. Can you mention any other overt act showing his interest in the people of Tyree ?
—I know he always takes an interest in them, and would like them to be well off.

34021. That is a generality j can you point to anything more specific?
—I cannot say.

34022. You heard what the previous witness stated, that the Duke came and went without its apparently doing any perceptible good ?
—He comes and stays for a day or two, and he sends clothes and books to be distributed amongst the people.

34023. Books for prizes ?
34024. And clothes for the poor ?

34025. Are these distributed by you ?
—By my wife.

34026. You state that the people last year were not at all so ill off; how was it necessary to apply for seed ?
—I suppose they must have been worse off last year than other years.

34027. Did they apply for public charity ?
—Yes, I applied myself for some for the people here.

31428. Does that not denote there was a little more than usual distress ?
—I admit there was that.

34029. But you consider that was exceptional rather?
—No doubt about it.

34030. Were you troubled here with the great storms that went over the west coast ?
—Oh, yes; no doubt of it, and they did a good deal of damage.

34031. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is there no house on the island for the accommodation of strangers ?
—Oh, yes, there is a temperance hotel.

34032. The Chairman.
—You mentioned you were a tenant of two farms ?

34033. Were those farms, or cither of them, in the hands of a resident tenant before or an absentee tenant ?
—One of them was in the hands of a resident tenant and one of them in the hands of an absentee.

34034. So that, as far as resident tenure is concerned, they are just where they were ?
—Just where they were.

34035. In reference to the farms of above £100 of annual rental in the island, are there any of the farmers or tenants non-resident, or are they all resident ?
—They are all resident on the island.

34036. All the tenants of those farms ?

34037. In no case are two farms held by the same person excepting your own ?
—Oh, yes.

34038. Then there is one other case?
—Two other cases besides myself.

34039. Then there are as it were two farms on which there is no tenant in that sense ?
—Three farms on which there is no separate tenant.

34040. But there is no farm held by an absentee tenant?

34041. There was a statement made by, I think, the first delegate about a road from Balphuil to the shore upon which the crofters were said to labour although the benefit of the road was not exclusively theirs, can you explain that?
—The benefit of the road is entirely theirs more or less; the benefit is theirs except a small piece at the end of it.

34042. This is a township road existing for the particular benefit of these people ?
—Yes, it is meant for the township.

34043. A delegate made a statement which rather surprised me, that the occupiers in the township were required to work for an average of twenty days in the year, and in each case with a cart and horse, for the repair of the road?
—They have always been keeping up that road themselves, but how long or what time they take to work upon it I don't know. I have never heard that statement before.

34044. Does it appear to you that twenty days' labour in the year is unlikely ?
—I know they spend a good deal of labour on it ; there is a good deal of labouring in keeping that road.

34045. But it is indispensable to their welfare ?
—It is.

34046. The proprietor contributes nothing to keep that road in order?
—Not until this year; but he has offered to do it this year.

34047. Why did the proprietor particularly offer to do it this year; was it to afford work in distress ?
—Not at all, but they represented to me it was a hardship, and I spoke to the chamberlain, and the Duke said he was willing to assist to keep it up.

34048. One of the delegates exhibited a plan from which it appeared that the kelp company, or sea-weed company, was in the possession of five crofts; what is the reason that those crofts are in the occupancy of the
company ?
—The company farm some land to keep their horses in food.

3404 9. Would the company not find it possible to purchase their food ?
—I suppose they would find it cheaper to work their own land. They do a great deal of good to the island.

34050. We heard it stated that the company did not pay wages, or very little, in money, but pay their wages in goods ; what is the reason of that ?
—I cannot say.

34051. Is it the fact?
—The manager of the company is here, and he may say; I don't know much about their business at all.

34052. Have you ever heard it stated iu public or in the island that the people did not receive money wages ?
—I heard that that was the case. In some instances I have heard where they have got money.

34053. But have you heard it stated that the general system of traffic with the company is the truck system, or the payment of wages in goods?
—That is spoken of by the people.

34054. Has that ever been a subject discussed between the proprietor or the chamberlain and yourself ?
—No, never.

34055. Do you know whether the chamberlain is aware of it ?
—I could not say whether he is or not.

34056. What is the nature of the commodities in which the company deals ?
—Just a regular store or shop.

34057. Do they purchase as well as sell ?
—No, I am not aware that they purchase anything.

34058. They merely sell goods ?

34059. We learn that the proprietor was in the habit of offering prizes for an agricultural show ?
—Yes, there is an agricultural show held here every year.

34060. What is the nature of the competition, for sheep and cattle?
—Cattle and horses and butter.

34061. Cheese?
—No, just an ordinary agricultural show.

34062. Poultry?

34063. Has the proprietor taken a particular interest in the improvement of the breed of cattle ?

34064. Is there a bull kept here ?
—A large number of them.

34065. Afforded by the proprietor ?
—No, the people pay for the bulls themselves.

34066. But perhaps the movement in favour of good breeding may have originated with the proprietor; was there ever a proprietor's bull kept here ?

34067. What is the cross introduced into the country now ?
—Highland cattle.

34068. You adhere to the pure Highland cattle?
—Yes, there are one or two dairy farms, but principally Highland cattle.

34069. You have no shorthorn crosses?
—Yes, on some of the larger farms.

34070. Are the crofters taking to that at all ?

34071. What is the sheep used generally on the island?
—Blackfaced sheep and Leicester rams.

34072. You said that during the scarcity of last year you had applied for public charity on behalf of the people; did you receive any ?

34073. In what form ?
—Meal and money.

34074. From what source was it ?

34075. Not from the Lord Mayor's fund?
—We got a little from the Lord Mayor's fund about a week ago.

34076. Speaking of public works in the island and useful works, you stated that you were not able at that moment to mention any particular work which had been carried on since your arrival; but with reference
to the roads which intersect the island, were they originally made by the proprietor or his predecessors ?
—I suppose they were made by the proprietor, and they are kept up by the road trustees.

34077. Which means the proprietor ?

34078. Were the roads originally the landlord's work?
—I could not say.

34079. We have not seen very much of the island, but on landing I was rather struck by the want of fencing in the landscape ; is there in other parts of the island much substantial stone fencing ?
—There is a good deal of fencing in the island, but it is principally wire.

34080. Is there fencing actually between the different crofts or only the boundary of the whole township ?
—It is the boundary of the township as yet.

34081. Are the grazing lands of the crofters now almost all divided from the sheep farmer's lands by fences?
—Yes, the whole of them, I think.

34082. Is there any substantial stone fencing about the larger farm houses?
—There is not much stone fencing.

34083. Is there any facility for stone fencing ?
—Plenty rocks, if you blast them.

34084. But you don't find stones in the soil ?

34085. Do you think stone fencing superior to wire?
—I think so.

34086. Much more ?

34087. The place is not advantageous for it?

34088. We have been told there has been little peat left; can you form any conception or estimate of what the cost of fuel, either peat or coal, to the family of a Tyree crofter would be in the year ?
—I could not form an estimate, but I know it must be a considerable item in their expense; but I could not form an estimate.

34089. Do they import any peat, or is it all coal ?
—All coal.

34090. £6 was mentioned by one or two witnesses as the probable cost of fuel ?
—I think that is a high enough estimate for a small crofter.

34091. Professor Mackinnon.
—Are you acquainted with a crofting community elsewhere ?

34092. Where ?

34093. Much the same class of people ?
—Yes, on Sir Donald Currie's estate.

34094. You were in Mull before you came to Tyree?
—Yes, as ground officer.

34095. As compared with the estate in Mull, would you consider the crofters here better off?
—I would say they are.

34096. With regard to those that asked or that got the seed last year, were they the smaller crofters or the bigger crofters?
—Principally the smaller crofters.

34097. With respect to those for whom you asked outside aid, charity, were they chiefly of the crofter or cottar class ?
—Entirely of the cottar class.

34098. So that, even in a very bad year like last year, a good substantial crofter can weather the storm with comfort ?
—A good substantial crofter would.

34099. And there are a considerable number of them in this island ?
—I hope so.

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