Tyree, 7 August 1883 - James Sleven

JAMES SLEVEN, Resident Manager to the North British Chemical Company—examined.

34310. The Chairman.
—You have been here part of the day, and have heard several of the witnesses refer to the system of trade carried on by your firm ?
—Yes; some of these are erroneous.

34311. Have the kindness to explain the system of trade which you carry on with the people ?
—Mr Stanford, the principal partner of the company, first introduced this into the island. He found a great difficulty in conveying money as cash to pay the workmen and kelp burners or makers here. Once or twice he sent a clerk from Glasgow with the cash box, and the clerk and the cash box were taken north and south, and could not get landed. Then there is no bank in the place; and when I came to the island it was the request of the people that the company should open a store for their benefit. The company did so, and are supplying goods as good as can be got in any part of the island, and as reasonable.

34312. Does the company give the people the option freely of receiving their wages either in money or in goods ?
—They do; but if they get it in cash they reduce the price of the kelp. The kelp at present is almost a drug in the market, and Mr Stanford has given up the purchase of it in several places. This place he has kept on the same as at first, and is paying the same amount for it.

34313. But do I understand that any labourer in your employment may come to you freely and ask you either for money or for goods just as he likes ?
—Those people who work the kelp are not labourers. They commence to work—they know our system—and they can work or not at all as they please. We do not employ them; they just commence to put up the seaweed.

34314. I want you to speak of other classes of labourers?
—One of the delegates who was here last said it was only seldom any money could be got. That man I paid more than £6 to last summer, for work he did for the company.

34315. I do not understand what description of labourer?
—He is a joiner, the one who was here last.

34316. I want to know what description of labourers you employ; you say that the people who work the kelp are not labourers ?

34317. Who is employed by the company—what other class?
—Just a few men, carters, and three or four who work in the factory when it is working.

34318. With regard to the chemical works?
—That is the chemical work where we prepare the tangle in the rough state for the other work of the
company, which is at Clydebank.

34319. The few labourers employed by the company, may they receive their wages freely in money or goods as they like?
—They get money occasionally, and other times goods.

34320. But if one of your labourers came to you and said, —I want to have the whole of my wages in money, and always to have it in money, would you always give it him?
—I would, if I had it on hand.

34321. But would you try for his benefit to keep it on hand?
—Well, I cannot do but just as I am done with. I have sometimes cash on hand, and other times I have not. When I have it on hand, and they ask it I give it to them.

34322. Are all the labourers you employ in debt to the company, or are some of them not in debt ?
—The greater part of them are in debt to the company. We just give them goods as they require them, and we do not speak of whether it is due or not.

34323. Suppose one of your labourers said, ' I insist upon having the whole of my wages in money always,' would you promise him to do it or not,?
—I would say, ' If you keep within your wages, we will pay you altogether in money.'

34324. That is to say, ' if you are not in our debt'?

34325. Now explain on what system the people gather the tangle, and sell it to you ?
—It was stated here it was 4d. a cubic yard; it is 6d. per cubic yard. Two feet high and 3 feet long is 4d.; the cubic yard, 3 feet long and 3 feet high is 6d. It is but 2 feet high that we take it, as tangle keeps better in that state.

34326. Do the people gather it and bring it to you wet?
—No, it is placed on the shore, and is measured there by a man employed by the company to measure it, and they all get lines for this tangle, and come to the store and get paid for it.

34327. And you take it to your store?
—Yes, to our work.

34328. Suppose a man who has got this heap of tangle said, ' I want to sell it for ready money and not goods,' would you give him ready money ?
—No, I would not.

34329. And if you did, you would give him less than if you gave him goods ?
—It is possible.

34330. Is it true that the people are in the habit of gathering the tangle at night in whiter ?
—It is very seldom ; that is a rare case.

34331. Had you ever any knowledge of the case in which the women and children went out in the middle of the night to gather this stuff?
—They might go early in the morning, which we might say was night—dark—so as to catch the tide.

34332. Did you ever hear of children going out at night?
—I never heard of an instance until to-day.

34333. Is this system of truck or barter which you carry on—have you heard it complained of by the people, or is it agreeable to them ?
—It has been agreeable until lately.

34334. Is this system of barter or truck approved of by the Duke's chamberlain ?
—I cannot answer that question.

34335. Do you know whether he is aware of it ?
—Our resident factor is aware of it.

34336. Did the resident factor ever discuss the question with you ?
—We have often talked of it.

34337. Did the resident factor seem to approve or disapprove of it?
—He appeared to approve of it. With regard to the land, as was stated by the delegate—he stated that I, as an individual, went to the factor, and asked his present croft. Now, that I totally deny, and the present factor can be asked the question, if it is true. I never sought his croft, and never asked it for myself, or any one.

34338. You are able to assure him at the present moment that you do not wish to possess his croft ?
—I can if he is listening; I do not wish it.

34339. But the other crofts which the company possess, how were they occupied before they got into possession of the company?
—They were occupied by crofters.

34340. What became of the crofters, were they turned out?
—No, one of them got a better place.

34341. And what did the other get ?
—He had two crofts, and he has one yet; the other was given to the company.

34342. Does the company make any profit on the purchase and sale of these articles, or do they do it really for the good of the people ?
—They do it more for the good of the people than for profit; their profit is very small indeed.

34343. Do you think the profit you make is smaller than the ordinary profits of a shopkeeper or trader ?
—No, I don't think they are smaller, but just something similar.

34344. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is it drift tangle cast up by the sea that they gather ?

34345. They do not cut it ?

34316. Why do you get it mostly at low spring tides ?
—When the tide is out it is got, and when the tide is in it cannot be got. It is partly covered by the sea.

34347. Does the tide not bring it up?
—It drives it up.

34348. Professor Mackinnon.
—There was a statement made, that the weight of a ton of kelp was 22½ cwt. ?
—That is correct, that is allowed for sand and stones, and I can assure you it is no profit. In some cases
I have seen 28 lbs. of stone coming out of a piece of kelp, placed there undoubtedly by some individual.

34349. But is it not rather an unusual mode of procedure to call 22½ cwt. a ton ?
—No, it is always so in the kelp trade.

34350. Don't you think it would be as well to pay less for 20 cwt. And call it a ton ?
—It would be just the same.

34351. The people also stated that when they did get money for the kelp they got at the rate of £2 per ton ?
—That was offered them.

34352, But when they got goods they would get at the rate of £4 per ton ?
—Yes, that they would get the option. I have offered that.

34353. Does that mean that you charge 100 per cent, profit upon the goods ?
—No, it does not.

34354. What does it mean ?
—That we wish to pay goods, and it is more convenient.

34355. To the extent of 100 per cent.?
—That is not the case. You are well aware that kelp is at a low rate at present.

34356. I do not mean to dispute that £ 2 may be a good price; but what is the meaning of £2 per ton in cash or £4 per ton in goods ?
—That was never mentioned except to one or two individuals who were there pushing to get cash by other parties from the outside, and just to stop the claim we said so.

34357. You actually give them for kelp £ 4 worth of goods?

34358. But if you were to be put to it, and they insisted upon getting money, you would give them half ?

34359. So that the evidence upon that matter is quite correct?
—It is so far.

34360. There was a man who said here as a matter of complaint that you were using his pasture ground for drying the sea-ware ?
—That is true.

34361. And that you had the authority of the factor for that?
—We have the authority of his Grace. The company's lease gives them that authority to put up sea-ware on the shore to dry it and burn it.

34362. On the crofters' pasture land ?

34363. So that his Grace derives rent from the crofter and a second rent from you ?
—In some cases it is more beneficial than injurious to the pasture, the sea-weed being put up upon it.

34364. The crofters seem to take a different view ?
—Some of them do.

34365. At what hour is high tide at the height of the spring ?
—Six in the morning.

34366. And low water at twelve at night ?

34367. Then is it not at twelve at night that they can get the tangle best ?
—Yes, if they go.

34368. It is in winter they get it ?
—Autumn, winter, and spring, up to the month of April.

34369. You said they went for it in the morning?

34370. As matter of fact, is there ever a low tide upon a winter's morning?
—It does not require to be low tide ; you will get it at half tide or one hour's ebb.

34371. And if they go for it at half ebb in the morning and low tide in the middle of the day?
—Some of them go early in the morning and remain until late at night, and do not return to their homes.

34372. Perhaps the night tide puts it up best?
—It comes up day and night.

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