Birsay, Orkney, 21 July 1883 - Andrew Gold

ANDREW GOLD, Graham Bank, Kirkwall (62)—examined.

24262. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are you Lord Zetland's factor ?
—I am.

24263. Are you a farmer ?
—I have about seventy acres of ground.

24264. Have you any statement to make?
—No, but I shall be happy to answer any questions.

24265. You were present this morning when we had one or two of the proprietors in Birsay and Harray before us ?

24266. You know the circumstances of the parish of Harray and Birsay ?

24267. We were told that in the parish of Harray, where there were small proprietors, there was only one pauper; how do you account for that ?
—Well, there are very few in Birsay too; I cannot say how many there are, but there are very few. The poorrate in these two parishes would be a mere bagatelle if it were not for the lunatics we have.

24268. Do you know what proportion of land is occupied by small heritors in this parish of Birsay, and what by the tenant farmers ?
—There is not the half of it held by the small heritors.

24269. Do you observe any difference between the condition of small heritors and tenant farmers?
—They are very much the same.

24270. Do you observe any difference in the system of cultivation adopted by these two classes \
—They are very much the same.

24271. Were they different at one time?
—A little; I think, in former times, the tenants cultivated rather better than the small lairds. I think they set the lairds an example. I think the tenants and the large proprietors were the first to commence improvements.

24272. Did the tenants on Lord Zetland's property receive any compensation for their improvements, or had they long leases on which to improve ?
—There is none of them that live on the estate; I never had a case of compensation to consider.

24273. They feel satisfied that they will be allowed to sit at the same rent ?
—I don't know what they feel, but they are allowed to sit.

24274. And they do improve and reclaim the land ?
—There has not been a great deal of land reclaimed except in some portions of the hill; the lands were chiefly cultivated before. They have only improved them in consequence of their being gathered together. Formerly they were all run-rig, and they could not improve it and cultivate to advantage; but about 1845, when I entered office, I squared the lands up and put each tenant's farm round his house or as near as I possibly could, and that enabled them to cultivate the land to better advantage. I have brought with me a plan made in 1764 which shows how the lands lay then, and also how they were occupied up to 1845, and it may be curious for you to see it —it will give you a sort of idea how the lands all over the county of Orkney lay. They were all on the run-rig system.

24275. Do you observe that the small lairds display more energy in reclaiming their land than the tenant farmers who have no security of tenure ?
—Well, I cannot say that they do; I don't think so.

24276. You heard the witness William Davidson remark on the fact that his land which he bought—a piece of common land, and which he had reclaimed and improved—was taxed at what he thought an exorbitant rate, and that Lord Zetland's common did not appear in the valuation roll. Can you explain what he meant?
—No, I cannot; there is a great deal of Lord Zetland's common in the valuation roll

24277. But the common which is not let is in Lord Zetland's hands?
—No, the tenants have sheep and cattle on it.

24278. Then it is all let ?
—It is part and parcel of the farms.

24279. And if it does not appear in the valuation roll separately it appears as part and parcel of the farm ?
—It is a pertinent of these farms.

24280. And if it were taken away from these farms would it decrease their value ?
—It might a little, but not much. The commons are not very valuable.

24281. It was stated by William Davidson that Lord Zetland's commons were not pastured?
—Well, the tenants all round the hills pasture on them; they have the right to put sheep and cattle on them.

24282. But the commons are so bad that they don't?
—There are a good many sheep and cattle upon them.

24283. You think the abstraction of the common from the farms would not materially reduce their value?
—No, I think each farm could get as much common as it required without affecting the general commonty, the commonty is so very extensive—about 7000 acres.

24284. Could these commons not be made of use somehow?
—No, we have made several farms on the hill, but they have all been failures. Some Aberdonians came down here a number of years ago and took leases from Lord Zetland for portions of the common, and they have all turned out unsuccessful.

24285. Are the names of those who came and took leases of commons in the valuation roll?

24286. Are they taxed?

24287. Must it not appear rather hard to those people that they should be taxed when the main common is practically not taxed ?
—Well, it is a very difficult thing to make up a valuation roll so as to do justice to all parties over the country, for taxation purposes. The same thing would apply to drainage or the reclamation of land anywhere.

24288. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—When you mentioned that you did not think the small proprietors were improving more than the tenants of the same class, I presume you referred to Lord Zetland's tenants?
—I think the tenants generally cultivate their lands as well as the small proprietors do. I cannot say there is very much distinction.

24289. You would not draw a distinction between other proprietors in that respect ?

24290. Are other properties not changing hands now and then ?
—Small properties, yes; there are frequently properties in the market.

24291. You have been here nearly forty-five years. Is it not the case that there are properties changing hands in Orkney, and which have changed hands during the last forty years, upon which there have been tenants of £80 and upwards?
—Oh, yes.

24292. Don't you think, when a man buys a property he is apt to raise the rents when there are no leases ? Is not a new comer very apt to raise the rent ?
—Yes, he is very apt to do so; he would like a fair percentage for his money; it is natural at any rate.

24293. That being the case, explain how it is that the position of a man whose rents are liable to be raised is as good as that of the small heritors whose rents cannot be raised ?
—I did not say they were in so good a position.

24294. What did you say?
—I understood that the Chairman's question was in regard to cultivation. The position is very different; I would rather be a proprietor than a tenant myself any day.

24295. Would you like to see the condition of things in Harray spread over Orkney ?
—I don't think it would do any harm I don't think it would do with every class of people. I don't think, for instance, it would do with Irishmen; but they are a different race of people. I think if you made him proprietor of his own lands in Ireland he would do nothing; but if you gave the Orcadian an estate of his own, he would work it up because he is an intelligent industrious man.

24293. Is it not a fact that in almost every place where these small proprietors are, you will find an old house and a new —that they have built new houses ?

24297. And there is a great change for the better in the buildings?
—A very great change during the last forty years, amougst the houses of small proprietors as well as the houses of tenants all over the country.

24298. So far as the land has fallen under your observation, does it realise very high prices?
—Small lots will generally fetch high prices, and it is generally sold in that way for that purpose.

24299. Have you any idea, from your own observation, and as a commissioner of supply, whether or not the rents paid by small tenants?—I am speaking of tenants under £30 a year—are in proportion more than those of big farms?
—No, I don't think so, generally.

24300. One of the small proprietors mentioned to us at Harray that his predecessor had purchased up the feu duties, and therefore it was free. Explain very briefly what is Lord Zetland's position as a superior in Orkney; when the superiorities have not been bought up, are they all old feus where the entries to lands are not taxed?
—Mostly. There are recent feus, of course, too.

24301. And, of course, in that case the entry is taxed?

24302. I presume then, in a great part of Orkney, when the superiorities change hands there is a year's rent exigible?

24303. What then?

24304. Are there any casualties?
—No. I don't know what they are in the bishopric, but there is none in the earldom. I think in the bishopric they do, but not in the earldom.

24305. What is the nature of the feu duties paid to you —is it a small money tax?
—No, it is chiefly paid in butter, malt and oatmeal, and poultry, and other articles.

24306. You know the law of Scotland with regard to untaxed feus—there is no such clause in the charter here ?
—No, and no such charge, except in some of the recent feus. They are upon the ordinary law of

24307. The matter of superiorities cannot be considered a burden of any kind upon the land in Orkney in that way?

24308. With reference to the teinds, is the Earl of Zetland the titular of all the lands?

24309. Have the heritors generally bought up their teinds?
—No, not that I am aware of.

24310. Are you in the habit of exacting the surplus teinds?

24311. Does that form a considerable revenue?
—No, not much.

24312. Have the most of them got their teinds valued?
—Yes, most of them, except, I think, in this parish here.

24313. I suppose the consequence is that there is not much surplus teinds?

24314. But such as it is the titular has got the right?

24315. Mr Cameron.
—What number of years' purchase is generally obtained for land when it is sold here?
—It varies very much; it will range from twenty-five to one hundred years' purchase.

24316. What sort of property fetches one hundred years?
—It is generally very good, but very small—very keen competition for it in consequence of its smallness; men very anxious to get a small place to settle down upon, pay three or four times its value.

24317. What size of property would it be?
—Twenty acres or less.

24318. You don't include the house?
—It has been, of course, very low valued before in that case.

24319. Do you include the house in that case?

24320. You mean with the house and property?

24321. What would the houses bring on an average, beyond what would otherwise be obtained?
—Not very much; probably £40 or £50.

24322. For the whole?
—Yes,|for the whole. Of course that is a very extreme price. I might explain that from twenty-five to fifty years is something like the range. There may be instances just of £100. I have known instances, but it was just property cut up and let out in small lots to induce competition. It brought five times its value.

24323. But where the land is sold at anything above fifty year's purchase, is it not because there is something extra in amenity or the character of the house which induces purchasers to give that?
—No, it is just the desire to acquire a small place.

24324. Do you mean to say they give that price to cultivate their own land ?
—Yes, and to have a small place of their own.

24325. You heard the evidence given by the last witness—Mr Stephen ?

25726. Do you know of any instances where farmers have been in a position to buy land as he has described he did ?
—Yes, my next neighbour purchased a place for which he paid £5300, last year.

24327. Was he a farmer ?

24328. Did he make his money by farming?
—Yes, in Sanday.

24329. How long has he had the farm?
—He has been a farmer all his days; he is a man of about fifty years of age.

24330. He has been a farmer then for twenty-five or thirty years?
—Yes, and his father before him; he did not make all the money himself.

24331. But among people of the class of Mr Stephen, who purchased a farm out of his earnings as a labourer —you don't find many instances of that kind?

24332. Most of those who purchase have been abroad and made some money—natives of Orkney?

24333. Is there much desire among the small farmers to become owners of their own laud?
—I suppose so; it is a very natural desire.

24334. But is the desire expressed in a practical way by their saving money so as to be able to avail themselves of any opportunity when it occurs?
—No, the teuants who have been long in a farm never seem to enter the field of competition.

24335. Sheriff Nicolson.
—When you became factor here, in what state did you find the land on the property of the Earl of Zetland?
—It was, of course, very ill cultivated, and could not very well be otherwise owing to the prevalence of the run-rig system.

24336. The tenants of small holdings possessed bits of land scattered at great distances chiefly?
—Yes, and the result was that each had to get a road to his small place, and they had to lay it down at the same time, and all to reap at the same time.

24337. And did you make any change upon that system ?
—I squared them all up, and put each man's farm round his house as far as possible, and when that could not be done I gave him a square field as near as possible with a road down to it.

24338. Did that change create any discontent?
— It did, I must confess.

24339. And what has the result been ?
—Most favourable; I think the tenants have felt the benefit of it.

24340. Has that improvement been made generally through Orkney as well as in the Earl of Zetland's property?
—All over Orkney. In districts where there were a number of small proprietors there were often difficulties in the way, and some litigation ensued. They had to raise a process of planking under an old statute, and the lands were surveyed under the direction of the court, and divided amongst the proprietors according to their respective interests and laid altogether, so as to enable them to cultivate to greater advantage. There has been a great improvement in the agriculture of Orkney within the last forty years —may be as much as in any part of Scotland.

24341. In what does the improvement consist?
—Improving the lands and the improvement of the breed of cattle. For instance, in South Ronaldshay, I have no doubt there is a greater amount of money realised from that island than from the whole of the county forty years ago.

24342. What was the breed of cattle before that ?
—The native breed.

24343. None else?
—A few on the larger farms.

24344. Both cattle and sheep?

24345. What is generally the breed of cattle now?

24346. And sheep?
—Chiefly, I think, cross.

24347. And that is the kind of stock the crofters have also, as well as the larger farmers?
—Yes. Of course, among the smaller tenants they have not such fine bulls as the larger farmers; the larger farmers have sent south and purchased the best animals that could be had in the market.

24348. Has the improvement of the system of agriculture extended to the crofters as well as to the larger farmers?

24349. Have you observed in your life here a decided improvement from year to year?
—Yes, certainly.

24350. Has there been any improvement in the general condition of the people?
—-Very great

24351. Are their houses better?
—Very much better.

24352. And do they live better?

24353. Do they clothe themselves better?
—Much better.

24354. Are there any of your crofters who are unable to make their living out of their land?
—Yes, some of them, of course.

24355. Some of them have very small holdings?
—Yes, merely a half.

24356. Is there a considerable proportion of them who live upon the produce of their land?

24357. Most of the small lairds do so also in this parish?

24358. They are not engaged in fishing?

24359. They are farmers and nothing else?
—Farmers and nothing else: small lairds. There may be a very few very small proprietors who may be workers or labourers.

24360. There are some whose property is so small as to be valued at only £1 or £2?
—Yes, and these cannot live upon their land.

24361. There are no large farms on Lord Zetland's estate?
—Not very large.

24362. What is the largest rental?
—The largest farm we have is in South Ronaldshay; it is about £170, and he has another farm.

24363. Have you removed any small tenants in order to make use of their farms?
—I cannot recollect having done so.

24364. Has there generally been, throughout the county of Orkney, during your experience of it, anything of the depopulation that has been practised more or less in Shetland?
—No, there never have been any evictions on any estate in Orkney as far as I can recollect, and I have
heard of very few in North Shetland for thirty-eight years.

24365. Professor Mackinnon.
—Are there any leases upon any of the small holdings?
—On Lord Zetland's estate there are some. A good many yeare ago I entered into a lease with a great number of tenants, and when the leases expired they would not renew them.

24366. What is the lowest rent among those who have leases?
—I think the lowest is about £6. All the larger tenants have leases, such as the farm I have referred to, and Bordhouse here.

24367. The small tenants don't want leases?

24368. Would they get leases for £6 and £10 crofts?
—Yes, if they want them.

21369. And improving tenants whose places we saw on the hillside as we were coming along ?
—No, they have no leases

24370. And don't want any?

24371. And they go on with their improvements the same?

24372. In perfect security that they will not be disturbed or have their rent raised?
—Quite so.

24373. We have been told that the want of leases in various other parts of the country was the chief reason why improvement was not being carried on, but I suppose your experience here is quite different from that—they improve without leases?
—They do. I have never had any difficulty with a single tenant; they are always ready to improve.

24374. But no doubt that is due to the character of the people and the character of the administration for a long time?
—Well, as long as you have a good tenant, and he cultivates his land well, and pays his rent, the proprietor has no reason to evict him.

24375. There has been no request for a lease, from the fear of a change of proprietorship, or of change in the administration of the estate?

24376. Upon what terms do you give a piece of hillside to a tenant?
—There is no special arrangement; a good deal depends on the ground. He gets it at a nominal rent, and may have it for a long period.

24377. And he builds the house himself?
—Where a large lump of the hill was taken, there was a special arrangement made between the proprietor and the tenant; but in the small places laid off, they build the houses for their own convenience, and a nominal rent is laid on.

24378. And do you allow them to cultivate as many acres as they can?

24379. And the rent is nominal?
—Well, it is full value for the ground they get, but it is nominal notwithstanding.

24380. How long would you consider it reasonable, in an ordinary case of that kind, to leave the rent at a nominal rate?
—I think at least they should have it for nineteen years at a nominal rent; and, even then, at a very moderate rent under the new arrangement, unless where the ground is very good. There are some places where the hill ground is exceptionally good; but as a rule it is not.

24381. And where the tenant would get no assistance for buildings or fences, you would consider it only fair that he should get it during the first nineteen years, at a nominal rent?
—Yes, and at a moderate rent thereafter.

24382. For a further period?
—For a further period.

24383. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Can you give us any idea what number of tenants or feuars there are upon the Lord Zetland's property?
—I think somewhere about 700 tenants. There are over 200 who pay feu duty.

24381. 500 tenants, and 200 who pay feu duty?
—There are somewhere about 700 tenants.

24385. And 200 feuars?

24386. In your long experience, have you ever called in any surveyor to come and tell you what you ought to do in the way of fixing the rents ?
—I had to employ a surveyor to survey the estate.

24387. But since then have you ever called in any surveyor?
—Yes, I had to call in a surveyor to square up the estate and get plans.

24388. But about fixing the rents?
—We fixed the rents as we went along.

24389. When was that last done?
—I don't remember, I'm sure.

24390. A long time?
—Yes, a good long while; I am still working at the place at the present moment—the same district. There have boen difficulties in getting it done until now.

24391. Was it in your time that the hill ground was divided amongst the proprietors?
—Yes, in regard to Birsay, Of course, all commonties in the country are now divided, but some were divided before I came here. There were very few divided before I came; they were in process of division.

24392. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—The tenant whom we saw at the roadside sits practically rent free?

24393. His name does not appear in the valuation roll ?
—He is not paying anything yet; it is not worth anything.

24394. I have alluded to Mr Davidson's grievance?

24395. His name would have appeared on the valuation roll if Lord Zetland had sold that land to him?

24396. And he improved it himself?

24397. So that the people who have purchased land might naturally have a grievance seeing that man sitting rent free?
—It is so infinitesimally small that it is not worth noticing.

24398. But it exists?

24399. And this is the only grievance ?
—Well, it is one which would require to be looked at through spectacles. If I were to put a rent upon
that mau at present he would only have to pay 2s. 6d., and it is not worth any.

24400. Mr Davidson is rented at 35s.?
—He has his thirty-six acres.

24401. But this crofter of Lord Zetland's has a lot of ground too?
—Not two acres.

24402. But it is going on increasing?
—Yes, in twelve years, perhaps, he may have something.

24103. Has that question ever been before the valuation committee here?
—No; some of the commissioners themselves have great complaints on the same subject.

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