ALEXANDER ALLAN, Proprietor, Aros and Tobermory (38)—examined.
35647. The Chairman.
—Have you got a statement to make?
—I wish merely to make a few remarks on the document that was prepared by Mr M'Callum with reference to my estate. I wish to point out a few inaccuracies in his statement. The grazing of the hill which has been reduced still contains 1030 acres of good grazing land —I believe, about the best grazing land that I have —and I am told by competent authorities that it is capable of grazing 200 cattle. There are only at present upon it ninety-seven cattle paying a rent of 5s. per head, six horses paying 30.s., and two horses which are free. We allow the owners of these two horses as a privilege to graze on the hill for nothing. Since I came into possession of the Aros estate the crofts have not decreased in any way, but have increased. The only farm that was in the vicinity of Tobermory, and which was suitable for conversion into crofts, I converted into crofts, and the rents of the crofts remain unaltered since the day I came (too fitful). The cottages which were referred to, which I built, and which are said to contain only two rooms, contain mostly four rooms ; a few contain three, but on an average they contain four rooms each. For these cottages and a quarter of an acre of land at least, they pay £ 8 a year. The cottages cost me from £120 to £150 each. A statement was made that the grazing is given to all and sundry; but that is a mistake. There is a ground officer, whose business it is to see that no cattle graze on the hill except those which are allowed, and that the grazing is given to those who, according to the finding of the Court, have undoubted right to it, and also to those who rent crofts. There are fifty crofts on the estate, of which forty-three are rented at over £ 1 and seven at £ 1 and under. There were some remarks made as to a piece of my farm being given over to rabbits. The whole extent of the ground is only 400 acres, and it is entirely surrounded by a rabbit-proof wire netting —a fence so high that the rabbits cannot climb over it, and so close that they cannot go through it —and therefore the rabbits can inconvenience no one; that farm is in my own lands against my will. These are all the remarks I have to make, but if your Lordship or any of the Commissioners wish to ask any questions I shall be glad to answer them as far as I can.
35648. 1030 acres remain as common grazing ground for some of the people of this place. What is the class of people who in virtue of the decunon of the Court have a right to graze ?
—There are only eleven, I think, or twelve; but I cannot very well describe them.
35649. Are they original holders in the settlement, as it were?
—I think they are ; but the right goes not with the party but with the house, and as the house changes hands the right goes with it.
35650. Do they generally belong to the poorer class of people ?
—No, I don't think they can be said to belong to a very poor class.
35651. Do the ninety-seven cattle all belong to those eleven or twelve ?
35652. On what principle are the others admitted ?
—Those who rent crofts have a right to graze, say, some one and some two cows. I may mention that, according to the original charter that was granted by the Fisheries Society, the right was only from Whitsunday to Martinmas, but I allow them to graze if they choose the whole year round.
35653. What was supposed to become of the ground during the remainder of the year ?
—It was supposed to lie idle, I imagine.
35654. The ninety-seven cattle pay a rent of 5s. per head?
35655. Upon this ground?
—Upon this ground.
35656. What do you think would be the market value here for the grazing right for a cow for a year, supposing a crofter or any person hired the grazing from a farmer, equivalent to the grazing on this ground ?
—I should imagine they would pay £ 2 or £ 3 ; but I don't know much about farming, and cannot say.
35657. Then there are eleven or twelve persons who have a right of grazing at 5s. a head ?
—They have, in connection with their houses.
35658. And you allow a certain number of other persons to graze at the same price ?
—Those persons who rent crofts.
35659. At the same price ?
—At the same price.
35660. There are none others except those who rent crofts, I think?
—On one occasion, I think, we allowed one or two widows to graze, but I don't think that is the case now.
35661. But there are no feuars in the sense of persons of superior station who graze ?
—None, unless they rent land. Any one who rents a croft has a right to the grazing of a cow.
35662. Are here many feuars who happen to rent crofts and who don't belong to the crofting class at all?
—I should not say there are very many. The crofts are rented mostly by all and sundry; some are labourers, others artizans, and some shepherds; a croft is not a means of livelihood, but a means of producing luxury, a means of producing extra comforts for the family.
35663. Were you yourself the purchaser of the estate?
—My father purchased it, but he died within ten days after the purchase.
35661. By the time he purchased it all these gradual reductions of the area which it is stated formerly belonged to the settlers or crofting people had been effected ?
—Not all; I took in a piece at Loch Manial, a piece of good arable land, which I am at present cropping.
35665. What is the extent of that?
—I cannot say ; I have not had it marked so as to see properly.
35666. Is it ten or a hundred acres?
—Nearer a hundred than ten.
35667. That forms part of your own home farm?
—No; it forms part of Drumfin, which was let until last year, but I have it at present in my own hands.
35668. Was that a portion of the hill grazing, or did you include crofts ?
—It was a portion of the hill grazing; I think there were no crofts on it It was rather far away from Tobermory for crofts. There is no suitable land for making crofts round about Tobermory; all the suitable land is given in crofts. But I made an offer some years ago, which is still open, to allow any one who wished to take in a piece of the hill; and I offered to supply draining and fencing materials, and give the land on a term of years at a nominal rent; but no one has accepted the offer.
35669. What hill was that ?
—A portion of the hill that is used for grazing, but which practically cannot be grazed, as it is mostly cut up into peat mosses.
35670. But you say, in general, since your family came into possession of the estate there has been no alteration of the number or area of the crofts as far as the arable land is concerned ?
—They have been increased largely.
35671. No diminution, but a large increase?
—That is so.
35672. You appropriated to that purpose a farm or a portion of a farm ?
—The whole of a farm.
35673. Had that farm been a sheep farm or an arable farm?
—The addition was made within twelvemonths after my arrival, so that I remember very little about it. I should think it was mostly arable ground, with possibly a few sheep.
35674. Have the crofters who took possession of that farm built houses upon it ?
—No, they live in Tobermory.
35675. And enjoy the land as allotments?
35676. Have you found that they pay you as good a rent as could have been realised if the land had been let as a farm ?
—As nearly as I can judge, the rent I get from those crofts amouuts to £20 more than the farm paid, but that £20 goes to meet the cost of the subdivision. I have certain expenses to go into.
35677. And is the rent as regularly paid as it would have been by a farmer ?
—Every now and then one crofter or so falls into arrear, but I may say the rent is very well paid.
35678. You have built a good number of cottages, and those cottages are let at a rent of £8 per annum for those of four rooms ?
—They are mostly four-roomed cottages. There is only one two-room cottage, and it is given to two widows, who pay no rent at all.
35679. The four-room cottages, which pay £8 per aunum, have about a quarter of an acre of land ?
—Yes, some more or less.
35680. Do you find there is a great demand for cottages at that price?
—Not a very great demand for houses at £ 8 ; I have one or two let at a small rent—I think one at £6—and there is more demand for the cheap ones.
35681. Are the cheap ones smaller ?
—They are smaller.
35682. How long have these £8 cottages been built?
—About three years, I should think.
35683. The rent has always been on the same scale?
—Yes, except one block of four cottages that have a good deal more land attached to them, and after the water was brought in and various improvements made, I think the rent was raised to £10.
35684. Do you pay the water rate, or do the tenants pay it ?
—A portion is borne by the proprietor and a portion by the tenant.
35685. In the case of your cottages being vacant, there would be no difficulty in re-letting them at these prices?
—Not very much. There is not a great demand for £ 8 cottages just now. I have one standing vacant.
35686. Were there any rabbits in the country at all before you introduced them in this enclosed piece of ground of which you have spoken ?
35687. It was not the introduction of a new animal then ?
—No, there were some on the place that I enclosed.
35688. Have you enclosed it in any degree as a warren for the purpose of profit, or entirely for the purpose of sport?
—Mostly for the purpose of profit.
35689. A warren?
35690. How does it answer ?
—I only commenced it six months ago, and I am not able to judge yet.
35691. Upon the property which you possess here, had there been in former times, before it was acquired by your family, a large crofting population?
—I don't think the crofting population could have been any greater than it is just now.
35692. You don't find traces of old buildings or old cultivation on the land ?
—Over on the banks of Loch Forsa I believe there were crofts, and there are none now ; that is, on the extremity of the estate there are traces of crofts on the hill—here and there an old house.
35693. Is there any difficulty in letting land in large farms just now ?
35694. Do you think it would be desirable or profitable to recur with discretion to the old system of re-letting a portion of the large farm to small occupiers ?
—The expense would be very great. I tried the experiment in one case. I had a farm which drew £550 a year in rent, and I subdivided it into two farms at a cost of £1386, and now the two farms combined only draw £520 —one £360 and the other £160. The combined rent now is £520, while the previous rent, before the expenditure of £1386, was £550.
35695. But if the farm had been retained as one farm, perhaps the value of it might have been still reduced?
—It would have been reduced undoubtedly.
35696. But I was rather thinking of crofters than small farmers. Do you think it would be possible to transfer crofters' families to portions of large farms, and with some encouragement allow them to establish themselves and form crofts of a reasonable size, paying say £15 or £20 of a rent?
—I question if a family could live with any degree of comfort upon such a small piece, and the expenditure on the subdivision fence and houses that would require to be built would be very great.
35697. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are the eleven feuars having grazing on the field here, of whom you have spoken, entered in the valuation roll as paying the 2s. 6d. of feu-duty ?
—There are a good many houses in Tobermory which pay feu-duties of about that amount. Those eleven may be amongst them, but there are others besides the eleven.
35698. Do you know what sort of value the houses of those eleven feuars are given at in the valuation roll ? Are they houses worth £ 5 to £10 a year?
—I should not think quite £10; more like £5, I should imagine.
35699. Mr Cameron.
—How many cows are each of these eleven persons allowed to graze ?
—One cow each, I believe.
35700. On those 1030 acres?
35701. So that the rest remains available for any purpose you wish to devote it to ?
—Yes, but it is actually used for grazing.
35702. What size of crofts were those new ones which you formed out of the farm ?
—I should say from three to five acres.
35703. What rent do they pay?
—Twenty-five shillings on an average for the best land.
35704. Have they grazing besides?
—They have grazing for a cow for 5s,, in one or two cases they had the privilege of grazing two cows at 5s. each.
35705. But you don't as a rule allow more than one cow for each family ?
—Not as a rule ; it is not asked.
35706. Supposing those people did not reside in Tobermory, what would the additional cost of fixing them upon this land have been—that is, if you hid to build a house for them ?
—Houses can be built at various prices. I find it almost impossible to build suitable houses under £120.
35707. So that in that case these people, if they were put there and required to reside there, could not have paid the same rent; they would have required to pay more rent than they do now living in Tobermory ?
—Yes, if the proprietor had built a house for them.
35708. They would have to pay more rent, or the proprietor would have to lose the interest on the cost of building the house ?
35709. Do you think if they had not lived in Tobermory you would have been able to carry out that experiment?
—I would not have wished to do it if it had involved building houses on the crofts, bceanse the crofts are so small that a family could not exist in comfort simply from the produce of the croft; they require other occupation besides.
35710. Most of the crofters here obtain other occupation?
—All. I don't know of one instance of a crofter on my estate who trusts to the croft as a means of livelihood.
35711. I suppose the occupations are very varied ; you could not specify them particularly ?
—Labourers, joiners, masons, and some of them shopkeepers.
35712 Any fishermen?
—There are very few fishermen here; one or two.
35713. Yachtsmen ?
—One or two do go as yachtsmen in summer, and I think there are a few sailors.
35711. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I want you to explain a little about the people who have the right of grazing on the 1030 acres. You have said there are eleven ?
—I believe it is eleven. It was originally seventeen, but they have dwindled down, and I think eleven is about it.
35715. They have the right by decree of the Court of Session to graze a cow ?
—The house has.
35716. You have fifty-seven crofters altogether, have you not —fifty paying over £1 and seven paying £1 and under?
—Fifty altogether; fortythree and seven.
35717. Do you include the eleven in the fifty ?
—I cannot say. Possibly some of them may rent a croft.
35718. Are those crofts that you speak of held by those fifty upon the land that was originally feued by the Fisheries Society, or are they beyond it ?
—I think they are on the land ; so far as I know about the boundaries of the British Fisheries Society's land, I believe they are on it.
35719. Some of the people have complained that the pasture is rather scrimp. Does not it appear to you if the eleven people have a right of grazing on the 1030 acres, you may, by multiplying the number of cattle grazing, really do away with the privilege they have?
—No doubt of it, if the number was multiplied to too great an extent.
35720. You think then that it would be wrong to multiply the stock to such an extent as to deprive the eleven of their pasture?
—I believe I am bound to give the eleven the grazing of a cow.
35721. And with the ninety-seven cattle and eight horses you consider there is quite sufficient pasture on the 1030 acres?
—I believe there is pasture for almost double that number.
35722. In the full sense of the decree of the Court of Session, you think there is sufficient grazing?
—I am told the animals are uncommonly fat and in good condition on that grazing. The grass is very good.
35723. You were asked about the difficulty of letting farms; may I ask, when yon succeeled to the property, whether the tenants upon the estate at that time are there now, or are a good number of them gone?
—They have all gone.
35724. Did some of them go even before their leases were expired?
—Yes, two of them.
35725. Have you any objection to state why they went?
—They asked to be allowed to go, because they said they could not pay the rent.
35726. These rents were not fixed by you but by your predecessor?
35727. There are some complaints, I believe, about your forbidding some of the tenants from burning heather; is there any such thing ?
—No. The tenants have the right to burn, I think, one-tenth only, according to the lease. I wish that no more should be burned, and I wish that no more should be burned iu one special place than is arranged by the lease. My desire is that the young heather should not be burned, but that the old heather should, and I believe my wish would agree with a good farmer's idea of proper burning.
35728. Do you see that done yourself, or do you allow the tenants to do it?
—I have seen it done iu person, and my gamekeeper is always there.
35729. No doubt it is done during the proper seasons for burning. Suppose it wet in a particular year and no burning took place, would you increase it next year, and allow double the quantity to be burned?
—That would depend to a great extent on the amount that seemed to require burning. If there was a large amount of thick heather requiring burning, I would ; but if it was young heather, I should think it advisable not to burn it.
35730. You have laid down a rule that no more than one-tenth should be burned, and beyond that you reserve it in your own discretion ?
—I believe the lease says one-tenth.
35731. Supposing one year may be wet during the legal time for burning heather, and that nothing was burned, would you next year burn not one-tenth but one-fifth ?
—I don't think that it would be a right thing to do; it would not be advantageous, I believe.
35732. Has it not happened some years that no heather has been burned ?
—I don't think so.
35733. Have you received any complaints from any of the tenants on the subject ?
35734. Did you make inquiries when putting that stipulation into your lease to ascertain the general custom about the quantity to be burned ?
—No; the clause was put into the lease as in previous leases ; personally I know nothing about whether it was a right thing to do. I believe it was a customary clause.
35735. It was transmitted to you, and you adhere to it?
35736. Apparently some of the people don't seem to be very well pleased with the estate management; will you explain why, as it is obvious to persons who are only here for a day that you have done a good deal for the place ?
—I cannot understand it. I know of no district of Scotland where the people are quite satisfied. I have done my best to please my tenants, and I am not aware of any dissatisfaction; no complaints are ever made to me.
35737. Do you reside here always ?
—Ten months out of twelve.
35738. And you are always accessible to any of your tenants who wish to make any complaint ?
35739. The Chairman.
—I understood you to say that you considered the eleven or twelve original houses have a right to the grazing of one cow is 5s., but that you allow a great number of other persons to exercise the same right for the same sum. Do you consider yourself under any obligation at all in connection with the tenure of the land to allow the other people to graze cows for 5s. ?
—Not as regards the other people. Their claim goes with the croft, and any year it might be taken away, or the rate might be increased if I chose.
35740. In fixing the rental of a croft do you take into consideration the 5s. privilege of grazing ?
35741. I wanted to know whether that was a gratuitous gift which you gave to the tenants ?
—It goes along with the croft, and it is of value to the croft, seeing that the grazing of a cow is worth more than 5s.
35742. The real value of the grazing of a cow is taken into consideration in fixing the rent of a croft in a moderate degree ?