SAMUEL NICOLSON, Crofter, Balmeanach—examined.
139. The Chairman.
—Before I take the examination of Samuel Nicolson, I understand it is the desire of Mr Macdonald to say something further.
Mr Macdonald.—I wish to say, in ease of any misapprehension, that all witnesses have the very fullest opportunity of saying whatever they choose, true or false,—I leave it to themselves,—without any fear of anything whatever from anybody. I was rather taken aback at first, and was not prepared at the instant, or else I would have said that, but now I say it fully.
Witness.—I understand what is said.
140 The Chairman.
—Have you been present during the examination of Angus Stewart?
141. Did you hear and understand everything that passed?
—I heard and understood everything that was said.
142. Will you be so good as to make any statement on your own part corroborative or otherwise of what you have heard from Angus Stewart?
—He was quite right in all he said.
143. Have you anything additional to state?
—I would say somewhat differently from what he said in some things. As he said, we were very much crowded by other people being placed in our township—strangers,— and we were also in trouble through our holdings being made smaller and the rents increased. We have particular cause for speaking in our own interest as regards the hill of Benlee which was taken from us. I can point out to the present day the sheilings which the women had in my grandfather's time on the hill, and we were looking upon it that we had full right of the grazing on Benlee. Fifty-four years ago the then factor sent a ground officer from Sleat all the way to make up the summing of the hill for us, and that officer is still living, and it is he who told me about it. We were also much hampered by families from other townships being crowded in among us, and part of our land taken from us for their accommodation, without reduction of rent.
144. Can you state, within your own memory, within the last thirty or forty years, about how many families have been brought in from different ptaces around and crowded in upon the soil of the Braes ?
—I am free to say that there are twenty such families at any rate.
145. Within the last thirty or forty years?
—Yes, within my own memory—that is within the last thirty or forty years.
146. When the families are brought in and the land is divided, is there a fair reduction of rent made to the parties from whom the land is taken to be given to the new comers?
—Not a penny of reduction in the township in which I live. There was no reduction.
147. What rent then do the new families pay? Are they charged rent?
148. Do they pay the rent to the proprietor or to the old crofter?
— To the landlord.
149. We have heard of the formation of a deer forest from the last witness; how long is it since the deer forest was formed ?
—Thirty or thirty-one years ago.
150. When the deer forest was formed, were there any inhabitants brought from that ground and put upon the ground of the Braes ?
—There were some of them who got no land and others went abroad.
151. Did any come to the Braes?
152. To make the deer forest, was any pasture taken away from the Braes people or any other crofters?
—I understand that grazing was taken from the tenants of Sconser for the purpose of the deer forest, but not from the tenants of the Braes.
153. Mr Cameron.
—You say that the holdings were made smaller, and that the rents were increased; when was that?
—It is seventeen years since the township in which I live was made smaller.
154. Do you mean that the common grazing was taken away?
—The arable land.
155. Was the rent increased upon the remainder?
—The rent was not increased on the township in which I live, but the hill was taken from us and that lot of arable land.
156. Did the rent remain the same after the arable land was taken away and also the hill ?
—Yes, the rent remained the same.
157. Who got the arable land?
—One of the tenants who was taken from Scor.
158. What do you mean by one?
159. Do you speak of the hill as regards your township or as regards your particular farm?
—It was of our own particular township that I speak.
160. Then there was only one family that came?
—From Scor, and another stranger came, but he was instated in another man's place in our township.
161. How many crofts are there in your township?
162. Then, before this time that you are talking of, there were twenty-three?
—I believe it was about that.
163. And only one family came, and the holdings of the other crofters were reduced by the extent of one twenty-fourth ?
—Yes; that is so.
164. And the rents remained the same?
—The rent remained the same.
165. And one more family was added to the twenty-three?
—Yes. There were nine whole lots in our township, and the ninth was taken from us, and that lot was held by the township as vacant ground before the family from Scor got it.
166. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
—They were taking in that lot every third year. It was fallow ground, and was yielding, I believe, crop of the value of £16.
167. Mr Cameron.
—How many acres of arable ground did this new family get which they occupied and tilled and worked ?
—I am not sure whether it is three and a half or four acres that is in our lots. That particular lot was the same size as the others.
168. So there were twenty-three crofters who had the same sized lots?
169. And this one family came and took away the lot?
170. With the right of grazing on the hill?
—That particular lot had no right to the hill grazing.
171. They did not get any hill grazing?
—No, they got no hill grazing; they simply got the arable land.
172. So that the other tweuty-three crofters had their lots as they had them before, and the whole of the hill grazing?
—Yes. There were thirteen lots cut out, but these were occupied by eight families at first. Then they increased till there were two families on each let.
173. But eventually they came to twenty-three?
—Yes, they eventually came to twenty-three families.
174. Of the twenty families who were brought in, when was the last brought in ?
—I mean there twenty families taken into the three townships, not into my particular township.
175. I am aware of that, but they were not taken in at the same time?
176. Then, in what year was the last of these families taken in?
—Fifteen or sixteen years ago.
177. Where did all these twenty families come from?
—Two of them came from Scor to the township in which I am. Another came from Tormichaig. Others of the Tormichaig tenants were placed in Beinna-chorrain, the township which is next to mine. I cannot be very sure altogether from what townships the remainder of these twenty families came, but I believe some of them came from as far away as Nairn.
178. You have accounted for three; do you know of any more?
— Five of the Tormichaig tenants were placed in the two townships.
179. Do you know why these people were shifted from Tormichaig to this township?
—The principal reason I am aware of was that at the time of the Disruption the factor was very much against the Free Church, and some of the families were removed because of sheltering elders of the Free Church.
180. In Tormichaig?
—Tormichaig and Kenchreggan, which is a township near Tormichaig.
181. From the point of view of these five families, were they better off in Tormichaig or better off where they came to?
—They themselves were saying that they were very much better off where they came from, and they were very much lamenting their removal. As to those who were removed from Tormichaig I do not know, but they were removed for a deer forest.
182. Is Tormichaig in the neighbourhood of a deer forest ?
183. Had they any grazing which is now a deer forest?
—Yes. The township of Tormichaig had their grazings in what is now part of the deer forest as well as the arable land of Tormichaig.
184. So you think they were removed partly for sheltering the elders and partly to make a deer forest?
—That is the best opinion I can give.
185. Professor Mackinnon.
—You stated that there are twenty-three families in your township, and that there were originally only eight lots. Has each of the twenty-three a lot now? Does each of the twenty-three pay rent now to the proprietor?
—Yes, each of these twenty-three families is paying rent to the landlord besides cottars.
186. Are there twenty-three crofters and cottars besides without any land at all ?
—The twenty-three include the cottars as well as the crofters.
187. Are they all paying the same rent ?
—No, they are not paying the same rent.
188. The crofters ?
—The crofters pay much about the same rent.
189. Then, of the twenty-three, how many are crofters and how many cottars ?
—Two or three are cottars ; but each family does not pay the same rent.
190. What is the highest rent that is paid by any one crofter?
—The lot in which I lived was paying £10, 5s. before the rent of Benlee was put on; but there are two or three families on the lot. I myself pay £5, 3s.
191. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How much for Benlee?
—Thirty-two shillings and a few pence.
192. Professor Mackinnon.
—You say the croft is divided into two. If it were a £10 croft would you think that a good sized croft?
—When the township had one family on each croft and the whole pasture besides they were making a living.
193. What is the stock of a double croft? What stock is it allowed to keep ?
—Four or five cows.
194. For the whole £10?
—Yes, but they got leave from the then factor to keep six cows.
195. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Before Benlee was taken from them ?
—Before Benlee was taken from us.
196. Professor Mackinnon.
—And the number of sheep?
—To the best of my recollection eighteen sheep.
197. That is without the hill ?
—We could keep thirty-six sheep on each lot, when we had the hilL
198. Six cows and thirty-six sheep. Do you consider that size of croft a suitable size, or would you prefer it to be bigger ?
—I would prefer a bigger croft if I could get it.
199. What would you consider a suitable size of croft in this place?
— I think that one crofter should make a living out of eight acres of ground with grazing.
200. Grazing for how many cattle, and how many sheep and horses?
— Four or five cows, forty or fifty sheep, and one horse.
201. Is there any horse kept in the place?
—We are allowed to keep a horse.
202. But has each crofter a horse?
—No, each crofter has not a horse.
203. Then, supposing you had that croft you speak of, capable of maintaining four or five cows, a horse, and fifty sheep, could you see your way to stock it ?
—Not now; I could not stock such a croft now.
204. Are there many in the place who, you think, could do so?
—I do not think there are many who could stock it.
205. As rents are going in the place just now, what do you think should be the rent of such a croft ?
—In my opinion £5 or £6 would be quite enough.
206. That is to say the rents at present are too high?
—The rents at present are too high.
207. But though you consider them too high, what would be the rent of such a croft as rents are going just now?
—I cannot say, as I have no experience.
208. Do you think the rents are too high just now, on this estate?
— Yes, I consider the rents are too high on this estate.
209. And you think a rent of £5 or £6 for such a croft would be reasonable?
—I do not think that the rent which I named would be dear for such a lot.
210. Do you think it would be cheap ?
—I think a man could make a good living out of it.
211. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—I think you said you were something of a fisherman. Do you think it would benefit you considerably to have some quays where boats could run into?
—I believe in my own township a great deal of money is lost through the want of a quay. They have to go elsewhere with their fish to sell them, though it is considered that is the best place for disposing of their fish to the fish-curers.
212. Could such quays be erected at a moderate expense?
—I do not think there is a place thereabouts where a quay could be easier constructed than in my own township of Balmeanach.
213. Would you be willing to pay a reasonable rent for the accommodation of such a quay ?
—Yes, as I see is being paid for accommodation at other quays.
214. Is the fishing here a moderate degree of fishing all over the year, or is it at certain periods of the year that there is fishing opposite Bahneanach ?
—There is fishing to be got for the most part during the whole year, except a month or two in the spring time—herring fishing.
215. They wouid not have to go very far away from the shore, I presume ?
—No, they would not have to go far from the shore.
216. And of course no distance from their own dwellings?
—No distance from their own dwellings.
217. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie
—Would a quay of itself be an advantage although no curer established himself at Balmeanach?
—We need the quay principally for the purposes of the fishing. We could do without the quay so far as our other purposes are concerned.
218. And if no curer were there it would be of little advantage?
— There is no year in which a curer does not come—four of them.
219. Where to?
—To our township of Balmeanach.
220. Can your boats land in all weathers ?
—We cannot draw our boats up in all weathers.
221. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are there often such days?
—Every second week almost we cannot draw up our boats.
222. What sort of land have you in Balmeanach ?
223. What kind?
—The half of it consists of a depth of two inches of soil on rocks.
224. How long does your crop of potatoes generally last you?
—My whole crop of potatoes and corn will not sustain my family for one-third part of the year.
225. Was the potato crop a failure last year ?
—Yes, the potato crop was a failure last season.
226. Have you got any assistance here ?
—Yes, we got some assistance.
227. Are you satisfied with the mode in which it was distributed?
— I think so; I think we are satisfied with the way in which it was divided.
228. Is there any rich person in the Braes ?
—I am not aware of any.
229. Do you know of any who has money in the bank ?
—Yes, I know a few ; I know some who have a little money in the bank.
230. The Chairman.
—You stated that the croft belonging to your family was divided. Why was it divided?
—The father of my predecessor in the lot gave the half of it to his son by order of the factor.
231. Was it divided against the wish of the family or by the wish of the family?
—It was with the wish of the family that the croft was divided.
232. During your occupancy has your rent been increased ?
—No, it has not increased.
233. What do you sell off the croft to get money ? Do you sell a stirk or a lamb, or what ?
—Some years I sell one stirk and perhaps two sheep, and some years I am not able to sell anything at alL
234. Has the value of the stock or animals you sell increased or decreased during your occupancy?
—The price of stock rose about the time I got the lot, or shortly before I got it.
235. Are the prices now, in the present year, higher than they were at the time you got the lot ?
—Much about the same.
236 Do you sell any butter?
237 Or anything else off the croft?
—Nothing, I am not able to sell any of the produce of the croft other than the stock, but I am under the necessity always of buying. I have spent £18 this year upon meal alone.
238. Are the prices of commodities necessary for your family dearer now than at the time when you entered into possession of your croft ?
239. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How many bolls of meal have you got for your family with the £18 ?
—About eighteen bolls.
240. Was that consumed by your own family ?
—Food for the family.
241. What is the size of your family?
—There are nine of us in the family.
242. The Chairman
—Do you desire to make any other remark or give any further information to the Commissioners before you retire ?
—I do not know that I have anything more to say.