Birsay, Orkney, 21 July 1883 - William Davidson

WILLIAM DAVIDSON, Meadow Bank, Sandwick (61)—examined.

24088. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Are you a tenant or proprietor?

24089. What extent of land do you own yourself?
—Thirty-five acres.

24090. All your own land?
—It is poor land.

24091. Is it all arable land, or is it pasture land?
—Most of it is ploughed now.

24092. How much land do you hold as a tenant?
—Four acres.

24093. From whom do you hold those four acres?
—Mr Irvine of Quoyloo.

24094. How long have you been a proprietor?
—Twenty-two years.

24095. And how long have you held the four acres from Mr Irvine?
—The same time.

24090. Was your own land not sufficient for you; or what induced you to take land from Mr Irvine?
—He had common to sell, and he offered me the land on lease to induce me to buy a piece of his common.

24097. What length of lease had you of his four acres?
—Nineteen years.

24098. You had that twenty-two years ago?

24099. And the lease has now expired?

24100. Have you taken a new lease?
—The lease is still existing betwixt us.

24101. With no new lease?

24102. What rent are you paying for the four acres?
—16s. an acre.

24103. Is your house on that land, or upon your own land?
—On my own land.

24104. You built it yourself?

24105. I suppose it is not impertinent to ask what price you paid for the thirty-five acres?
—30s. an acre—£50.

24106. What do you consider the land is worth to-day?
—I have never felt it to be worth anything.

24107. You have improved it?

24108. And did you make anything of it?
—I should not have improved it; I had nine acres under lease, and I managed to improve it in connection with that.

24109. But you said you had four acres under lease?
—Five acres were sold. I had a nineteen years' lease, and I continued with the four acres.

24110. But have you made nothing of your land? Is it worth nothing at all?
—It is worth nothing at all indeed.

24111. Would you be glad to have £50 for it to-day?
—No, because I have laid out more than £100 on it.

24112. Then it is worth something; I asked you what you thought it was worth?
—I would say it is worth 6d. an acre.

24113. Of rent?

24114. And how many years' rent is generally given in buying property in this country?
—It used to be twenty, but now it has risen, I daresay, to between thirty and forty.

24115. Then it is not worth as much as you gave for it to begin with?
—Well, hardly not, indeed.

24116. Is that because the land is so poor?
—Yes; and perhaps, not to take up your time, I may state the grievance which brought me here. The reason which brought me to Orkney was this : I was a servant in Aberdeenshire, and my father was a crofter under the Countess of Leslie, in the parish of Chapel of Garioch; and in connection with the property first there was Mr Bolton, factor there, and in succession to him Mr Blaikie, and in succession to him Adam & Anderson. It was Anderson who was the factor. In the time of the former factor it was the custom on that property to pay dues, road money, school salary, and all dues for the coming year, fore-hand paid, and the rent for the latter year; and this factor wanted everything for one year, and he asked the tenants, and my father among the rest, to pay the dues for the same year as the rent; and my father had no objections, only he paid them for that year. He would not pay more but for the one year, and the factor insisted that he should pay the same as the others. He then said he would ask no more dues from him while he was on the property, and warned him out. They entered the Court, and in course of a five or six years' lawsuit, he and the factor settled his lease, and then he had to leave; and I saw the commons advertised in Orkney, and I came to Orkney and bought these commons. And now I have a grievance respecting them, and I came here to state it. It is in connection with the Valuation Act. We have a new valuation in Orkney this same season, I think. From the first year I bought the commons I got notice from the assessor to return its value, and of course I had only paid £50, and got nothing back, and I returned it as of no value. I got notice from the assessor that it was entered in the roll as worth 3s. Next year I commenced to build a house upon it, and the assessor valued the place in my absence, and I got notice from him that it would be worth 30s., and I was entered in the valuation roll at £1, 10s. The common before I bought it was not in the valuation roll, and all the common surrounding me is not in the valuation roll yet. I see the representative of the Earl of Zetland here, and I am not aware that his commons are assessed at any value; and it would satisfy me to know how they are valued, for they don't appear in the valuation roll. Another assessor came over the place a few years ago, and raised the valuation to 35s., and still all the commons around me are of no value, apparently, for they don't appear in the valuation roll. In order to make it more provoking, I get a schedule from the assessor every year to fill up, and, as I have told the Commissioners already, I have returned the land as worth 6d. an acre —better things won't let at that—but the assessor won't pay any heed to my statement. And under a penalty of £20 or £50, for returning a false statement, I have every year to fill up that schedule, and call it worth £1, 15s. I want to return it at 17s. 6d. I would admit, although, it is worth nothing, it is reasonable it should be entered at something; but at the same time I cannot consider what way the big proprietors, such as the Earl of Zetland, can hold thousands of acres clear of the valuation roll, whereas small individuals such as I am are entered there. I complain that he gets so much for nothing; he got a free gift of it —national property, I believe; and that a small person like myself, who has had to buy his property, should be assessed for it, while Lord Zetland, who got his property for nothing, pays nothing. The filling up of these schedules must cost something, and I think the Commissioners could not do a better thing than suppress them. They do no good, these schedules; they only irritate one; it is a public thing, and an irritating thing, and I believe the reason of your being here is to remove everything that is irritating.

24117. But you have a house on the land ?

24118. And that is included in the 35s. ?

24119. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you ever appealed to the Commissioners sitting in Kirkwall ?
—I appealed, but did not appear, because they make it so troublesome; one must bring evidence, and that would put me to more expense than it would be worth while to incur —they make it so inconvenient.

24120. And was it something wrong with the lease that brought you to Orkney ?
—It was just that property being managed by the factors who were not responsible for their actions, or I would have been in my father's place.

24121. Have you any reason to be satisfied with having come to Orkney; has your health not been better ?
—My reason for being here to-day is in connection with these Valuation Acts. I think I am suffering a great injustice, because it is a public thing, and people are entitled to fair play with the neighbours.

24122. Did a number of other people buy commonty at the same time as you did, from the gentleman selling it?
—Yes, others did.

24123. And are they in the same position as yourself? Are they charged for their improvements?
—Some of them are that poor that they are not able to pay it, but they are all in the valuation roll who are able to pay; a few are exempted from poverty.

24124 Have you any other complaint to make?
—Not personally.

24125. Let us hear any public grievance you have then?
—Any public grievance I would have is in connection with the management of land; that the proprietors are often very unfeeling. For instance, in connection with my own land, and the improvement of the lands which I had under lease, there were three proprietors who had to make a main drain. They failed to make it in a reasonable time, and I complained that my lease was wasting; and the then proprietor submitted to £1 of yearly loss upon his rent; but before the drain was finished he died, and the heir renounced the lease, and that brought me into litigation with him, and I gained the case, but I lost money. That was here, not in Aberdeenshire.

24126. Are you quite sure you are correct in saying that Lord Zetland's common or hill ground is not in the valuation roll at all?
—I am not sure, but I cannot find it in any way, nor any other proprietor like him. None was deducted from Mr Irvine's when mine was sold. It was continued at the same valuation.

24127. Do the tenants occupy Lord Zetland's hill land here?
—He has about a thousand acres between me and the sea, but I don't know whether it is occupied or not.

24128. What beasts are put upon Lord Zetland's hill?
—It is not pasture; it is like mine, it is very poor.

24129. Although it is very poor, you would like to see it on the roll?
—Yes, when mine is on it, certainly. Mine is the poorest in Orkney, certainly.

24130. Are there many small proprietors like yourself in Sandwick who hold land?
—A good few.

24131. Are they pretty well off?
—They are generally pretty well off except those who have got commons without any more, and they are very badly off.

24132. I suppose the acres Mr Irvine left with you were good lands?
—It was just a loch and water. These proprietors let the water off, and I had to make land out of it.

24133. But it turned out to be good land?

24134. Are some of these small proprietors very ill off?

24135. Are they so ill off that they have been excused from paying rates?
—Yes, they have been excused from paying assessments.

24136. We have come from another parish—Harray—where there is only one pauper on the roll, is that the case here? How many paupers have you got?
—I am not so sure about that; but we are pretty comfortable in Sandwick, for that we are not under legal assessment; we are under voluntary assessment.

24137. How does that work now. Do people like yourself pay anything at all or do you keep your own poor?
—We pay, and in the same way the big proprietors pay full assessment for their tenants. For a long time the big farmers refused, but now their masters are paying for them, and we are getting on pretty happily.

24138. Who manages the distribution of the money —is it the minister or the kirk session; or are there some representatives of the heritors?
—It is still the old session I think—the Parochial Board they are called; it is just the old Parochial Board. The only new thing is the inspector; it is managed by him instead of in the old fashion.

24139. Are the people of this parish generally pretty well off?
—In Birsay parish I believe they have everything that is wanted of new improvements. They have perpetual tenure and are very well off.

24140. Who is proprietor of Birsay?
—The big proprietor is the Earl of Zetland.

24141. Who is proprietor about here in Sandwick?
—There are a good many proprietors in Sandwick.

24142. Is there any big one?
—The biggest one is Mr Watt of Skail; two-thirds of Birsay he holds.

24143. Did the people in this district know that the Commissioners were coming to-day?
—I scarcely think they knew; I got an Aberdeen paper and saw it in it. But I would not have noticed it unless I had been told by a neighbour.

24144. Supposing the people had got effective notice, do you think they would have sent delegates to come here to-day?
—I am not aware; I don't think many of them would.

24145. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You mentioned that there were proprietors in the parish of Sandwick so poor that they were not asked to pay assessments; are there many of these proprietors ?
—No, not many.

24146. How many will there be; how many do you know of?
—Only one, but I think there will be more.

24147. What acreage does he hold ?
—Four acres.

24148. Is that of this common land?

24149. Has he a house of his own on it?

24150. Is his land arable?
—It is ploughed, but, of course, he grows nothing on it.

24151. Does he keep any beasts at all?
—Sometimes a ewe.

24152. Does he grow potatoes?
—A few; he has a garden.

24153. And does he get anything out of the garden?-
—He is a blacksmith to trade.

24154. Has he a blacksmith's shop on his property?

24155. And does he not pay assessment?
—Not for several years.

24156. Because he is so poor?

24157. Has a blacksmith no trade in this country?
—The iron and coals are done.

24158. What stock do you keep yourself?
—I keep pretty fair stock myself, but I don't keep it on these commons; I keep myself on pretty good terms with Mrs Watt of Skail, and keep my stock upon her property.

24159. But I suppose you feed your stock upon your own provender in winter?

24160. What stock are you able to winter?
—I generally have the matter of half-a-dozen Shetland cattle.

24161. What sort of cattle are they?
—Just ordinary cattle.

24162. What price do the two-year-olds fetch?
—Sometimes £10.

24163. In a year like this would they not fetch more?
—No, that is about the highest; it is rare we manage that.

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