Tobermory, Mull, 10 August 1883 - John Campbell

JOHN CAMPBELL, Crofter's Son and Soldier, residing in Greenock (51)—examined.

35935. The Chairman.
—Have you been elected a delegate by anybody ?
—I a m informed by the villagers of Dervaig that my name was sent three weeks ago to the secretary as their delegate, and the only one who was appointed.

35936. Do you know Lachlan Kennedy?

35937. Was he chosen a delegate'?
— A sub-delegate; they said he would come along with me to supplement anything I had to say.

35938. As you are the second witness from Dervaig we cannot undertake to read the whole of your statement aloud, but we will receive it, and hear you verbally on any subject you wish to speak upon.
—Well, I can scarcely touch upon any particular subject unless you read the paper.

35939. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—We heard a statement from a delegate to-day already ?
—Ah, but it had no bearing scarcely upon the point; I was the only one specially appointed to come here.

35940. The Chairman.
—We cannot undertake to have this paper read aloud, but it will be received by the Commissioners and considered afterwards. You can tell us in general terms what are the complaints of the people. Is there a complaint about the hill pasture being taken away ?
—That is one of them, and there is a special complaint about the laird claiming the houses which the people consider are their absolute property,—absolute because their fathers built them with stone and lime at their own expense; and M'Lean of Coll, the laird of the estate when the houses were built, told them they would be theirs for ever by paying 13s. 4d. to him —that is, the house and garden. The garden would be about a quarter of an acre or so.

35941. Mr Fraser-Machintosh.
—Is there a village?
—A village of twenty-six houses.

35942. The Chairman.
—The promise was that the houses should be rented to them at 13s. 4d. ?
—That is the information we have from our parents; and they state they had it from theirs.

35943. Are they slated ?
—They were not formerly, but most of them are now.

35944. What rent is charged for them now?
—Twenty-six and eight-pence.

35945. Are there crofts attached to all these houses?
—A croft was attached to every house when the village was started, and rent was paid for the croft and hill pasture. The hill pasture was capable of grazing two cows and a horse for every house; and it was the common property of the whole village.

35946. Has the whole of the hill pasture been taken away?
—The whole by the present laird's father, who purchased the estate from the Macleans.

35947. When was that?
—It was about 1857 when this transaction took place.

35948. Has the arable land been diminished ?
—No, the arable ground is chiefly the same as it was then.

35949. When the hill ground was taken away were the rents reduced ?
—No, they were increased ; they were increased about £1 from 1857 to the present day.

35950. What is]the rent now ?
—One, which was £ 3 , 14s. for fifty-seven years or so, is now £4, 16s., increasing by 2s. or 3s. since 1857 until it comes now to £4, 16s.

35951. The complaint is that the hill grazing was taken away and the rent increased ?

35952. Have there been any strangers brought in and put among you ?
—No; properly speaking, there have not; but some of these houses, when the old people died, the present laird or his factor sold them to parties from the outside—people not belonging to the village formerly, and who had no right in the village.

35953. Strangers have been brought in and put into the vacant crofts ?
—Yes; there is a man in the village who never had an inch of ground in it before, and he owns three of the crofts.

35954. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many people are in the village altogether ?
—There are twenty-nine houses, and the original number was twenty-six. Three houses have been built since the village was started.

35955. Were you born there ?
—Yes, and my mother before me, and my grandfather also.

35956. When did you enter the army?
—In 1852.

35957. Are you still in the army ?
—I am still a reserve man, and will be as long as I live.

35958. Have you a pension ?
—No, but I will have in a couple of years The people complain bitterly of the taking of the houses from them.

35959. This document you have produced represents the feeling of the people ?
—Yes. We had a meeting the night before last, and were three hours talking the matter over, and I did my utmost to embody the feelings of the people in the paper. There are a number of the people here prepared to support what I have stated in the paper.

35960. Is the paper written by yourself ?
—-It is.

35961. The Chairman.
—What is your occupation now in Greenock?
—I am an iron-ship worker to trade, but these last three years I have been unable to follow my occupation on account of the disease in my foot; and I am only labouring.

35962. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are there any men in the army from Dervaig but yourself?
—In the time of the Crimean war there were seven of us out of that locality in Her Majesty's service, and four of us went up the Alma, and I am the most insignificant of the whole. We went through the whole of the Crimean war. Three of us again went through the whole of the Indian Mutiny. In Afghanistan we were represented by one of our number, and he was killed in the last battle. That is the last belonging to our place who was in Her Majesty's service.

35963. What regiment was he in?
—The 79th and 92nd. I was in the 79th at first, and transferred to the 92nd in India.

35964. In what regiment was the poor man who was killed in the last battle?
—It was Allan Macdonald who was killed at the last battle at Candahar. We have no less than fourteen war medals, a star, and twentyone clasps in our village.

35965. But notwithstanding all these services you have been ill-used in the matter of your possessions ?
—We complain bitterly that we cannot get these houses which our forefathers paid for. The people went and came, and paid these houses without let or hindrance until this proprietor got hold of the estate, when he induced the people to sign an instrument, which they would sooner cut off their right hand than sign now.

35966. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Did you use to have a good many men in the army from the island of Mull ?
—I cannot speak for the whole island, but I remember four Waterloo men in my own parish.

35967. Have you ever heard that there was any particular benefit given in former times to men who enlisted?
—Never in our place that I heard of.

35968. Is there any difficulty in recruiting men for the army?
—No; but there are no men in our parish—nothing but sheep and game.

35969. Does the recruiting sergeant ever come to Mull?
—I never saw one. We generally found our way to the army. We went because others came home, and we saw them dressed in the kilt, and when we saw that our heart went into it. I went to Edinburgh to enlist, and others followed me.

35970. Have you any idea how many men from Mull are in the army just now?
—I cannot say, but I don't think there is more than one belonging to our parish. I am not aware of any at all; but in my time there were seven of us out of that wee spot —one in the navy and six in the army.

35971. Do you know any gentlemen, officers in the army, from the island of Mull?
—Not belonging to Mull properly.

35972. Was the army ever popular in the island of Mull?
—I could not say, but there was this feeling, that they would like to be in one of the Highland regiments. The old Waterloo men came home and told stories, and the young men would be delighted to be connected with the army.

35973. Is it less popular than it used to be ?
—I think so.

35974. Why?
—Because of the way the people are crushed down now. All their life is crushed out of them.

35975. Is not that the more reason why they should better their position by going into the army ?
—Formerly, when people had more to come and go upon, young men lived more with their parents, and now no one can keep a child, they cannot keep themselves, and it was an easy matter in those times. In those times the young men came home in winter time and went away in spring, and now they cannot do that. In the crofts of Dervaig there are about two acres of arable land, and the biggest croft in that island has been turned over for the last eighty years, and that has impoverished it. The people have neither plough no horses nor anything. The old people have to carry peats nearly three miles. The old men complain of the peat carrying, but they must do it.

JOHN CAMPBELL, age fifty-one, son of a late crofter in Dervaig, delegate from the crofters of Dervaig, in the parish of Kilninian and Kelmore, on the estate of Quinish, island of Mull, states:

—That the true nature of our statement be thoroughly understood, we deem it necessary to divide our say into two parts. The first part embraces our history from the creation of the village about eighty years ago or so up to about 1857 or so, and the second part will bring up the history from the latter date up to the present. During the first fifty-seven years or so of our history we had a garden, a croft, a house, and a piece of land capable of grazing twenty-six horses and fifty-two cows or so—in other words, two cows and one horse for each house—for the sum of £ 3 , 14s. 6d. or so on an average yearly, as rent for the whole. This was under the M'Leans of Coll. Our houses were built by and at the sole expense of our forefathers. Everything rolled on smoothly during this long period on both sides; no complaints, no cause for the lairds, factors, and tenants pulling together. About the year 1856 we found ourselves out of the hands of the Coll family into that of an individual calling himself James Forsyth, Esq. of Dunach, a total stranger to us. In the spring of 1857 he sent a message to our village that he wanted to see all the heads of our families in Sorn, at his house on the adjoining estate. We attended; he informed us that he was - going to give us new titles to our holdings in Dervaig; that he intended to improve our condition or circumstances, if we would sign the paper that he presented to us. Unwilling to question him, we signed a paper that we were agreeable to accept of the new titles (as we thought). He assured us that we would be better off under the titles that he was going to give us than we were before. In a short time after this we received our new titles in a printed form. His very first step in the direction of improving our condition or circumstances took the shape of a demand that he wanted a portion of our moor for three years, for (as he said) the purpose of improving it for our benefit. To agree to his demands meant the loss of some of our cattle; rather than offend him, we handed over the portion of our moor that he wanted. At the end of the three years, instead of handing us back this piece of land as he promised, he wanted about £ 40 rent for it, over and above what we were paying formerly. To make a long story short, we saw at once that we had not a gentleman to deal with; it flashed across our minds that this was the same individual who cleared off about thirty-seven families off an adjoining estate before, and who did not consider it a sin to compel the poor unfortunate people to hand over to him such of their cattle tas he wanted, and that on his own terms and to prove that he was sailing under his true colours towards us, he made his cowherd gather our cattle into a corner on a certain day, sending a message to us at the same time that he wanted us at the spot where our cattle was gathered by his orders. We went and met him. He told us that he wanted to buy our cattle. He tendered his offer, under the circumstances. We handed over our cattle to him at his own offer. We could not help ourselves; we had no means to keep our cattle till the drovers would come round. Such is a sample of the improvements that we received at the hands of James Forsyth, Esq. of Dunach. Were it not that he took leave of this world and all that is in it, no one can say where his improvements would end. His son, our present laird, completed what his father left undone in a masterly style. He has carried out his father's design to a fraction as far as the management of the estate is concerned, not forgetting our new titles to our holdings. Between father and son, our holdings are at the present day about 22s. or so more than we paid to M'Lean of Coll when we had two cows and one horse; to-day we have neither cow nor horse, and yet we pay on an average about £4, 16s. or so, for what? for about two acres of the worst land in Scotland, stony, shallow, and of a very inferior kind, turned over for the last eighty years, and so constantly it is not capable of paying the labourers who turn it over, far less yielding anything for the rent that our laird exacts from us. We consider it our duty to bring before the Commissioners the kind of laws that we are compelled to work under. Before doing so, it may not be out of place to mention that we have the following named officials engaged in the farming line of business on lands that were occupied by crofters less than thirty years ago ; and what is rather singular, not one of them was in the farming line formerly. Our catalogue embraces the parish minister, police inspector, poor inspector, sanitary inspector, collector of rates, registrar, and post-master. Some way or other we never hear any complaints on the part of the above individuals against our lairds. Our parish minister has a croft that belonged to the village formerly in his possession; our laird is chairman of the Parochial Board, and another laird is chairman of the parish School Board. We cite a few instances or cases to show the kind of crop we as ratepayers reap at the hands of our local government. In the first place, our first School Board saddled this part of the parish with a new school that cost about £1000 sterling, and all the children attending the costly school at present are only about fifteen ; the rest of the children in our locality are receiving their education in a school that is entirely under the control of our parish minister. This school was built about thirty-two years ago specially for the use of girls only, and free of charge of any kind or fees. Some way or other, it is now open for boys as well as girls; fees are charged, but on a lower scale than the public school. How this change came about we don't know; we always understood that the terms on which the teacher in our public school was engaged was that he was to receive the fees and Government grant along with a certain amount of salary. The fact that our public school is without a teacher at present suggests the very pertinent question, Has the opening of the school under the parish minister anything to do with his disappearance? Possibly the chairman of our School Board can answer this question better than any of us. We think it rather strange to see the children belonging to the Established Church in one school at reduced fees and the children of other denominations attending the public school. Whether the fact that the late teacher was a Free Churchman, and the present schoolmistress of the other school is a member of the Established Church, has had anything to do with it or not we cannot say. Our school and Parochial Boards are entirely in the hands of our betters, and may go a certain length to explain how our interests are looked after. A poor unfortunate who finds himself under the necessity of applying to the Parochial Board for relief has to accept such relief in the shape of goods, and should the quality be plaster of Paris, there must be no grumbling. We pay our rates in coin, and we think that those receiving relief should get it in cash. Our inspector of poor holds many appointments. He will not give outdoor relief to any one in our village who occupies a house in it unless all interests are surrendered to him first. Not long ago a poor man, who was what we call well-gathered, took ill. Some way or other the inspector stepped in, procured medical attendance, nursing, &c, for this poor man, and was very attentive till the man died, when the inspector sold some of the poor man's effects by public auction on the street, acting the auctioneer himself. Whether this was done in his official capacity as inspector of poor or not we cannot say, but we have every reason to believe that this man was not in receipt of parochial relief at the time he took ill. We have no doubt that he can give a satisfactory account of this business, but we think it strange that he should be acting the part of a broker or commission agent between our laird and a purchaser of this poor man's house. We know that he has been acting in this capacity in more than one case. Keeping in view the fact that our laird claims absolute right to our houses, we cannot understand how our inspector of poor meddles with these things unless he and our laird are in partnership. We consider that everything of this kind of work should be done above board. We cite a parallel: an old maid bordering on ninety years, and who finds herself under the necessity of applying for outdoor relief, has been told to walk into the poorhouse or want relief. Surely this poor old woman was equally as well entitled to receive relief as the other poor man's case that we have cited. It may be explained that this old woman would not part with her interests ; this may account for his refusal to assist her, but does it justify it? Lately an old man applied for relief; before getting it he had to surrender his interest in his house. No one under the sun understands this sort of work but our inspector of poor and our laird. Although our population are decreasing daily, our poor rates don't follow suit. This may be explained by the fact that Tobermory many years ago became a harbour of refuge for many that were evicted from different places, including Ireland, leaving it at the present day a seat for propagating paupers. Without public works or any other of a general kind, many of the inhabitants, through no fault of their own, are thrown on our pauper roll. Within the last sixty years or so our parish has lost 327 families of the crofter class, leaving upwards of forty townships empty at this moment. Out of twelve estates, eleven are without crofters; the twelfth, the Torlaisk, has adopted another method of getting rid of its crofters —thirty-two of them have been crushed out of their holdings to enable the estate factor and others to extend theirs. Volumes could be written in connection with these clearances of a character that would not reflect much credit on those who were the sole cause of them. Although our lochs, rivers, and streams teem with salmon and trout, and our glens, bens, and straths abound with game, we cannot shake hands with any of our old acquaintances in the passing by on account of game, trespass, fishery, and criminal laws; all other laws are almost a dead letter in our parish excepting our laird and factor laws. If any of us want a trip to Edinburgh on the cheap, we have only to look at either loch or glen and away we go. We are obliged to put up with too many laird laws. We cannot see how we can better ourselves unless we break the law of the land. We have several kinds of grievances growing among us; years ago a party came among us stating that his object was to make our condition known to the public of Britain. Without the slightest hesitation on our part, we told him all about our circumstances; fancy our surprise to find our village reported by him as dying a natural death, with the rider that we could not die too soon in the opinion of the writer. It may interest the outside world to know that at this moment our locality has no less than fourteen war medals, a star, and twenty-one clasps standing at our account as honours earned by our sons out of the Crimean, Indian, and Afghanistan wars. We are accused of borrowing other crofters' grievances; we solemnly declare that our grievances set forth in this statement are pure Highland grievances, as pure as the heather on our hills. We are accused of sleeping under the same roof with cows and pigs; we don't deny that some do so, but we don't admit that this is a reason for clearing their bens, glens, and straths of their natural crop—Highlanders—who have a better right to them than any other under the sun.

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