Tobermory, Mull, 10 August 1883 - John Macdonald

JOHN MACDONALD, Master Mariner, Tobermory (45)—examined.

35840. The Chairman.
—How long have you been resident at Tobermory?
—Nineteen years.

35841. Are there many of the young people going to sea from here?
—A good number.

35842. You perhaps heard the previous witness saying there were not so many as there used to be; is that your experience ?
—There are not nearly so many.

35843. What do you attribute that to?
—I don't know; mostly all the young people at one time went to the sea, and now a great many of them don't.

35844. Is it owing to their finding it easier to get profitable occupation elsewhere ; is there more work going, so that there is less necessity to go to sea ?
—I don't know indeed what is the reason for it ; some of them thought they would get on better at other work than at sea.

35845. But do the people generally dislike the profession of the sea; are they averse to it?
—No, I don't think it.

35846. What is your opinion of the condition of seafaring men compared with what it was when you were younger; do you think they are better off now or the contrary?
—Their wages are better, and they are better fed.

35847. And is the class of vessels in which they go to sea more comfortable and superior ?
—The vessels are far more comfortable and superior than they were thirty or forty, or even twenty years ago
—the accommodation is better.

35848. The seafaring class as it now exists are better paid and better treated than they were ?
—They are better paid and have far better food than what they had before.

35849. Is there anything here connected with the harbour of Tobermory that you can suggest that could be done for the place, or do you possess everything necessary for trade ?
—I don't see that anything could be done ; the only quay where anything is wanted is in the possession of
Mr Caldwell, the proprietor, and he charges heavy dues. It is a profitable investment for him, and I think it is he who ought to make any addition to it. The steamboat pier is rather small, but the other pier is ample.

35850. Do you consider the charges at the pier are unreasonably high ?
—Well, I think they are paying him very well at any rate.

35851. Did he build the pier?
—He did.

35852. Then he may have built it at some risk?
—It was a certain profit, the trade was good at the time and increasing.

35853. Is the trade still increasing ?

35854. Are there any fishing boats of a superior class belonging to this place ?
—There are very few fishing boats belonging to the place.

35855. Has the place any natural advantages for fishing?

35856. Is it not worth considering as a fishing station ?
—Not as a fishing station. It has been tried, and proved a failure. It is too far from the herring fishing ground, and any other fishing is only a little at certain seasons of the year.

35857. As we had not an opportunity of examining you previously we would like to hear your opinion about the encouragement which could be afforded to fishing on the island of Skye. I would like first to ask you where you think on the island various harbour works might be judiciously undertaken—where could small harbours be formed for the encouragement of the fishing ?
—There are several places on the west side of Skye where harbours are much needed for fishing boats, but not for anything else.

35858. Is there any place in Skye where harbour works of a more important character could be profitably undertaken?

35859. Portree and other places offer sufficient natural advantages for a harbour?
—Yes; they have ample accommodation for any trade there is already on the east side, but there are several places suitable for fishing stations on the west side.

35860. I was rather speaking of large harbours at present; but you say there are several places on the west side of Skye where shelters might be made for fishing boats ?

35861. What is the kind of work that it would be necessary to make?
—It would need to be a place which would shelter their boats so that they would not be under the necessity of hauling them up, and where they could keep a better class of boats. They can only have small boats
at present, which they can haul up every night; and they would need small piers to shelter them, to enable them to keep larger boats.

35862. Almost all the Skye boats are hauled up every night?
—The most of them on the west of Skye.

35863. I suppose you contemplate a better class of boats ?
—A rather better class of boats, so that they could go a longer distance to the fishing, and with more safety.

35864. What size of boats would you recommend ?
—For the cod and ling fishing boats of about twenty-four or twenty-five feet of keel. That is the principal fishing upon the west side of Skye, combined with the lobster fishing.

35865. Would these boats be decked?
—Not at all.

35866. They want boats of twenty-four or twenty-five feet of keel for the home fishing; but would the Skye people, if they had larger boats, not go to Barra and to the east coast?
—I believe they would, or follow the fishing on the west coast of Scotland or Ireland.

35867. To greater distances ?
—Yes, if they had bigger boats; but very few of them are able to get these.

35868. What class of boats would these be ?
—They would need boats of from thirty to fifty tons for that fishing.

35869. How many feet of keel would that be?
—From thirty-five to forty-five or forty-eight feet of keel.

35870. In fact, the kind of boats used on the east coast and in Shetland ?

35871. Then they would require two classes of boats?
—They would.

35872. One of about twenty-four or twenty-five feet of keel, an open boat; and the other a big decked boat of thirty-five to forty-five feet of keel ?

35873. If they had boats of that kind they could prosecute their fishing with advantage ?
—They could to the same advantage as people from any other part of the country, and to better advantage, because they could always use them in winter when they were not at the herring fishing.

35874. Would the boats of twenty-four or twenty-five feet of keel be hauled up on shore ?
—They have to be at the present time.

35875. But it is not desirable to do it ?
—No. It is a tremendous labour, and sometimes they cannot very well do it when they come in at low water. Having only beats of from seventeen to eighteen feet keel, they haul them up, but with larger boats that would be very difficult.

35876. Is the larger class of boats, between thirty-five and forty-five feet of keel, hauled up ?
—Not unless for the winter.

35877. It always lies out?
—Yes, unless it is laid up for the winter.

35878. What kind of works would it be necessary to make on the west coast of Skye in order to protect and shelter boats of these two classes ?
—For the larger class there is ample natural harbours, at a distance though; but there is no fishing near hand, and they would have to come home with the boats. There are ample natural harbours on the west coast of Skye; it is principally harbours for the middle class of boats that would be needed.

35879. For the boats of twenty-four and twenty-five feet of keel?

35880. But the larger boats of thirty-five or forty-five feet of keel would be used as herring boats at one time of the year?
—Yes, on all occasions.

35881. Supposing that these brought home their herrings to Skye, to the native place of the fishermen, would they require a pier to land the fish, or could the fish be taken out of the large boat and transported on shore
by a small boat ?
—Yes, or the piers for the small boats would do for the big boats to come alongside of at high water.

35882. That would be sufficient?
—Quite sufficient.

35883. What kind of works would it be necessary to form to shelter these boats of twenty-four or twenty-five feet of keel?
—It depends greatly on the formation of the place. In some places they would need to be more extensive than in others. Some of the places, where the shores run out shallow to a considerable distance, would need a long projecting pier, in order to give two or three feet of depth at low water of springtides.

35884. You don't speak of a pier parallel to the shore, but of a pier standing out at right angles ?
—Yes, or from the side of the bay, or may be with a little turn at the end, so as to be a protection from the sea.

35885. Of course, the length of this would vary according to the ground ; but can you give me any idea how much they would generally cost—£1000 or £5000 ?
—Very few of them would cost £1000. A few would cost £1200 or £1500, where the water was shallow, and they would require to be carried out a considerable distance.

35886. Do you think that a great deal of good might be done at several places on the west coast of Skye by the erection of piers which would not cost more than from £1000 to £1200 at least?
—It would be a great benefit to the place, and to several other places besides the west of Skye.

35887. Can you indicate the names of the places where you think such piers would be particularly useful ?
—Poltiel, Uig, Stein, Soa, Tarskavaig, and Torrin, and at the north-east of the island at Stenschol or Kilmoluaig.

35888. Which is the best of the two ?
—Kilmoluaig is the best sheltered. In all the places I have mentioned piers could be easily built.

35889. Is there any place you wish to mention, at Raasay for instance ?
—I don't think there are any needed there; they have natural harbours there.

35890. In Rona ?
—No; there are good natural harbours there also.

35891. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—On the east side at Point of Sleat?
—There is no fishing population there except at one place, and it would not be easy to make a fishing station there. There is a good harbour at Ardvasar, close to Armadale. At the end of Sleat it would be very difficult and costly to make a shelter. There is no need for a pier at Isle Ornsay ; it has a good natural harbour.

35892. Suppose such shelters were built by the Government or other agency, how would you propose the piers should be kept up or maintained ?
—Get the fishermen of the place to keep them up. If these piers were substantially built, there would not be any necessity for keeping up for a long time to come. The places are pretty well sheltered as it is, but they
are not fit to leave boats at for the night.

35893. If such places were built, would the fishermen be disposed to pay some reasonable dues ?
—I believe they would.

35894. But the people have not got the class of boats you spoke of. How do you propose that they should be supplied with boats ?
—In all these places I don't think they would have great difficulty in getting the middle class of boats.

35895. How about the higher class?
—-It would be impossible for them to get them without assistance.

35896. If there were these good shelters, do you think fish-curers would come to these stations and provide boats, and let them to the men, as they do in Shetland and other places?
—I don't think they would, for there has not been any extensive herring fishing on that coast in the early part of the season yet, and it has been very uncertain the times it has come. It comes in some years, and there may be no fish again for a number of years after ; the herring fishing is very uncertain there. The fishing would principally be for lobster and cod and ling ; that is the only fishing they could prosecute with certainty.

35897. But if the men had these large boats, would not they go to a distance, and have the fish cured in other places ?
—They would need to do that.

35898. Mr Cameron.
—Are there any places on the Long Island where harbours or piers might be made with advantage ?
—Not many. The east side of the Long Island is the only place where they make any fishing, and there is any number of natural harbours there—far more than ever will be needed. There is one place on the west side of Harris which is very much in need of a pier —the island of Scarp. There are about thirty families there who are in want of accommodation.

35899. Do you think the people of Skye would take advantage of these piers and harbours if they got them 1 Do you think they would be much more inclined to fish than they are now ?
—I believe they would.

35900. With regard to the disposition of the people towards fishing, do you observe any difference between the Skye people and those on the Long Island or Lewis; are they more or less inclined to fish ?
—The fishing ground is nearer to the people of Lewis than to those in Skye.

35901. How far would they require to go from Skye to get good fishing ground ?
—It varies in some places. In some places it is convenient, but it is only a narrow strip along the shore. The best places I know for cod and ling is about Loch Eynort, but they have been all turned away.

35902. Do you consider the west coast of Skye preferable to the east coast?
—There is more fishing ground ; more open sea. The places I have mentioned are near the fishing grounds, and where there are no right harbours. On the east side of Skye they have good shelter.

35903. Do you think there are any places in Skye where it would be worth while for a fish-curer to go and establish a station, or would the fishermen require to repair to some other station and fish from there ?
—For the herring fishing they would.

35904. But for the cod and ling fishing ?
—The fish-curer would come there if the people were on the spot to begin fishing ; but they were not
allowed —the proprietors would not allow them to sell their fish to anybody else.

35905. But for the cod and ling fishing the curer would not require to establish himself there, but only to come and buy the fish ?

35906. That would be much simpler than in the case of the herring fishing ?

35907. And the people would dry their own cod and ling ?
—Yes, but then there is a great deal of the best fish that go for no use for the want of communication to get them fresh to the market.

35908. So that as things are at present they could only deal in dried fish ?
—That is all; or lobsters.

35909. I suppose on the east coast of Skye they can send them by steamer to Strome Ferry ?

35910. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Don't you think, if the people were inclined to prosecute the fishing, they would require these piers before they could do so ?
—For the cod and ling fishing. They would need piers of some description, so that they could get a better class of boats.

35911. We had in it evidence last Monday from Captain Swinbourne of Eilean Shona that he worked the fishing from Loch Poltiel, and sent smacks from there to Harris and along the west coast of the Long Island without any more pier than there is at present, and as I understood him he was successful ?
—He had three vessels at the fishing. He had a schooner of about 160 tons, and the " Moidart" of 80 tons, and the "Pilot "of 50 tons; but he came back with his fish salted, and only sent them ashore there to dry.

35912. He salted them on board the smacks ?-
—Yes, at Rockall and North Faroe and Iceland, and only landed at Poltiel for the benefit of the fine beach.

35913. But if he could land, why could not the others land?
—It is easy landing there for one day, although you could not keep your boat for a season there without hauling it up every night. They can generally land. But what is wanted is a place where they could leave their boats without hauling them up above high-water mark.

35914. You said the piers if properly built would not need much repair; were there not piers at all the stations which were established by the British Fisheries Society ?
— Yes.

35915. And have they not all gone to pieces?
—Most of hem have; but most of them were not built with regard to the fishing. Most of them were built to suit the interests of individual proprietors, and in exposed places, where they were not to be of use to the fishermen—in fact, where there were no fishermen.

35916. But a pier does require a certain amount of looking after to keep it up ?
—Yes; but where I suggest piers might be built the places are partially sheltered. There was a pier built on the island of Rum by Dr M'Lean, who came there about forty-eight or forty-nine years ago, and that pier has had scarcely any repairs since, and there has hardly been a stone fallen out of i t ; and the place is pretty exposed too. The pier is built of nothing but dry stone.

35917. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When we were at Barra we saw a great number of vessels there, numbering 300 or 400, and every one of
them we were told had come from the east coast. Was not that so ?
—Well, there were four or five or six belonging to Barra itself.

35918. There is nothing to prevent the people of Skye or Long Island fishing there like the east coast people except the want of boats and harbours ?
—That is all.

35919. Supposing these larger boats were got somewhere, and that these piers were put up, would the people of Skye and Long Island be able to hold their own with the people from the east in fishing?
—I think so.

35920. And would not it be a source of great wealth to the people themselves if that was carried out ?
—Certainly it would.

35921. Would it not prevent many of them going away to earn wages as labourers in the south ?
—It would.

35922. And there would be a certain fishing almost all the year ?
—There would be fishing, such as cod and ling, when the herring fishing could not be prosecuted.

35923. Do you think that the supply of fish has fallen off so far as the sea is concerned? We have heard of localities where it is falling off?
—I think it is.

35924. The Chairman.
—Do you think that the lobsters are abusively treated by being fished the whole year round? Do you think they are wasting them and exterminating them ?

35925. Do you think lobsters are just as plentiful as ever?
—I think they are, hereabout. I could not say what time ought to be close time for them, for they are in spawning season all the year round. There is not a day in the year but you will get lobsters ready to spawn.

35926. But is there not a legal close season ?
—There was some few years ago some talk about it ; but I don't know whether it was put in force or not.

35927. Even supposing they are spawning all the year round, would if not have been better to keep up their numbers, and give them rest for four months ? Fewer would be got, but then the whole number would not be so seriously diminished ?
—I don't know that it would do any good

35928. You don't think there ought to be any close season for lobsters ?
—I don't think there would be any benefit to the lobster; most of the lobster fishermen I hear speak about it say it would not.

35929. We heard an old fisherman in Bunessan who said they were nearly exterminated, and if there were a close season they would be renewed. Do you hear that talked about?
—Not by the fishermen.

35930. Mr Cameron.
—Are there not some lobsters spoiled when caught in hot weather ?
—There are, during carriage to the market. I have known some fishermen who had a large box sunk at low-water mark of spring tides, and who put all the lobsters they caught during these months in those boxes, and only sent them away when the colder weather came.

35931. Did they feed them?

35932. What did they give them to eat?
—Fish, and they gained condition while they were in the boxes.

35933. Are those boxes expensive ?
—No ; one of the parties that I saw was a carpenter himself, and he got a kind of drift wood to make boxes,
and I don't think they would cost more than £1, 10s. or £2. That man said the lobsters gained considerably in condition.

35934. Did any one follow his example?
—One or two. I know a man named M'Leod in Harris who tried it.

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