Harray, Orkney, 21 July 1883 - David Isbister

DAVID ISBISTER, Hybrock, Harray (38)—examined.

23925. Mr Cameron.
—What is the size of your property?
—Not very big.

23926. How many acres?
—Twenty or better.

23927. What is its rental on the valuation roll?

23928. Have your family been established long in the parish of Harray?
—My father and grandfather had the land before me.

23929. Are you natives of the island—one of the old families of the island?
—Yes, so far as I know.

23930. The property was not acquired by purchase within recent times?
—My father bought it from his father.

23931. How came your father to buy it?
—He bought it in wadset from other people, and they didn't redeem it, and my grandfather got it.

23932. Was your father the eldest son of your grandfather?
—I think so; yes.

23933. How did your father find himself in such circumstances as to enable him to purchase this property?
—He was away a while and earned the money; it was in debt until such time as he cleared it.

23931. He bought it with the mortgages over it?
—It was bought clear, I think.

23935. He redeemed the mortgages?
—Yes, he did.

23936. Do you mind telling us what price was paid for it in your father's time?
—I could not really say—£200 or £250—I could not say rightly, without looking over the papers.

23937. Did you hear the evidence Mr Smith gave us?

23938. Do you agree generally with his statements?
—I think so.

23939. What is the average acreage and rental—does the acreage vary very much among these proprietors ?
—Yes; some have not a third part of that held by others.

23940. What is the greatest number of acres in the possession of one proprietor?
—I could not tell you that.

23941. Are there any as high as a 100 acres?
—I don't know if there is or not.

23942. Do you think any of these properties in the neighbourhood have as high as 100 acres?
—None that is cultivated, I think.

23943. Would forty or fifty acres be about the highest?
—I think about that.

23944 What is the smallest property you know here?
—That would be difficult to answer; some have only a house and garden.

23945. But still their own property?

23946. A house and a small garden of about half an acre?
—Some might have that indeed.

23947. Do you know how these small properties came to be acquired?
—I suppose they got them for a bit of digging upon the brakes, and so on.

23948. But money was paid for it to some person?
—I mean have these small properties descended from father to son like yours; or have they been purchased recently by somebody who wanted a site to build upon?
—Both ways I think.

23949. You think some of these have come from father to son?
—I don't know; that is a thing I don't pay any attention to.

23950. Have there been many sales of land lately?
—Some sales have taken place.

23951. Can you tell us of your own knowledge how many years' purchase has been given for land which has just been sold?
—I could not say.

23952. Have you had any disputes as to the division of land amongst you on the commonty, which, we understand, is not fenced?
—No, not that I am aware of.

23953. You never have any trouble about the stock of one owner going on the land which properly belongs to another owner and vice versa ?
—I don't think there is much dispute about that; they don't pay much attention to commonty.

23951. They don't put much stock on the commonty?

23955. It is very bad land ?
—There is nothing but heather and bracken; sometimes we may put the cattle out, but it does not do them much good.

23956. What amount of land is there on this commont—how many acres in the commonty you all have together?
—I could not say.

23957. Is it two or three miles in length?
—The Harray boundaries go to the top of the hills; I could not say how many miles, perhaps two miles or more.

23958. Do you combine altogether to purchase improved stock —to buy bulls, for instance, to improve your stock; or how do you manage?
—Any party that inclines to have one generally gets one for himself, and others can go to him.

23959. Have you any local agricultural shows?
—Yes, in Kirkwall and Stromness, but none out here.

23960. Do you and your neighbours send any cattle or stock of any kind to these exhibitions'?
—In some parts they do, but not many of us.

23961. What sort of price do you get for the stock you sell —do you sell cattle at two-year-old?
—It is generally two-year-olds we sell.

23962. What prices do you get?
—£10 or £20 according as they are fed.

23963. What breed of sheep do you keep ?
—Generally half-breds; half Leicester, half Cheviot.

23961. Do you sell lambs?

23965. What prices do you get for them ?
—Generally about £1 or a little more.

23966. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Are you quite happy in your position?
—We have to try and make ourselves content with our position while we are in the wilderness.

23967. You would not part with your own land upon any account?
—I don't know about that.

23968. You would not exchange your position for that of a tenant?
—I don't know; there are some tenants maybe as well off as we are; we are pretty heavily taxed.

23969. Mr Cameron.
—What is your school rate here ?
—I could not exactly say.

23970. What do the school rates and the poor rates come to altogether?
—£2 or £3, I think.

23971. How much in the pound?
—I could not tell unless I had the receipt. For a small place like ours it will cost about £6 for burdens in a year.

23972. And what is your rent in the valuation roll?
—[Rev. Mr Johnston]. The school rate is about Is. 6d. some vears; I think it is a little less this year.

23973. And the poor rate Is. 2d. ?

23974. And the road rate?
—About Is. for the proprietor and Is. for the tenant.

23975. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How many cattle are you able to keep on the land?
—[Mr Isbister]. About eight generally, calves and all.

23976. How many sheep?-
—Two or three.

23977. Have you no pasture for more than that number?
—No, it is hard work to get that same.

23978. How many horses do you keep?
—Two, for working the place.

23979. What breed—not large horses?
—No, but they are getting larger than they used to be.

23980. You plough your land?

23981. Is that a general custom, or is there any spade husbandry?
—I don't think there is very much done with the spade here.

23982. Your fuel is peats ?

23983. Do you use any coals?
—Some parties may.

23984. Is there plenty peat?
—Yes, if you like to be at the trouble of carting them.

23985. Is there any fishery here?

23986. Do any of the lairds engage in fishing?
—They have no time to do it.

23987. Are there any of them at the fishing now?
—They might go at a rare time, but it is very rarely they fish.

23988. There is no fishing station near this for taking and curing the fish?
—No, there is none here.

23989. Any fishing that is done is only for yourselves?
—Nothing more
—[Rev. Mr Johnston]. Only trout fishing.

23990. There is no sea-fishing?
—[Mr Isbister]. No.

23991. Have you all got boats?
—No, we are inland.

23992. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you follow any other business but that of farming?
—No, nothing else.

23993. And you make both ends meet?
—Oh, yes, we try to do it, if possible.

23994. Do you owe any man anything?
—I could not say I have my family clear, but very near it. We generally take our things on and don't pay for half a year. However, we have got nothing laid by whatever way.

23995. The Chairman.
—I see there are a great number of the properties very small, according to the valuation roll; for instance, there are fiftythree properties in the parish between £1 and £ 5 rateable value. Now these very small proprietors cannot live on the produce of their land—how do they make up their living?
—Maybe by day's hiring, and by taking any job they can do—masons, perhaps, who get work to do.

23996. Those who have small properties work out like mechanics or labourers?

23997. And their daughters take service?

23998. And they work to proprietors, who have larger holdings, when they require it?
—Just so.

23999. Have the houses of the proprietors or lairds been generally rebuilt of late—are there many new houses?
—There are a good many which have been built of late.

24000. Are they much better than the old class of houses used to be?
—Yes, the old class of houses had generally a fire in the middle of the floor and a chimney in the centre of the roof.

24001. The old class of proprietor's houses were just like the houses of the crofters, only a little larger, perhaps, and better?
—I suppose so.

24002. And now they are all stone and lime houses?
—Yes. Very generally that, so far as I know.

25403. And are they generally slated?
—If they are able to do it they try to do it; and, if they are not, they try to do without it.

24004. Do you think that the houses of the small proprietors are generally better than the houses of Lord Zetland's tenants; or are they just the same sort of houses?
—I suppose they are much the same; I could not say.

24005. You could not say they are generally different one way or another?
—No, every one puts up a house to please himself.

24006. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You say the two-year-olds sold from £10 to £20—what was the average price of them this year?
—I could not say rightly; I think it was something like £12 and £14 I got.

24007. Would your neighbour's cattle be better or worse than yours?
—It is according to the age and how they are kept and fed. I believe some of them might get £ 10 for them, those that are poorly kept.

24008. Did you hear of any being sold for £20 this year?
—I did not pay much attention, but I have heard of them getting that for them.

24009. In Harray?
—Yes, for ones that are very highly fed.

25410. Are there many who feed their cattle as highly as that?
—A few, but not a great many.

24011. The most of them treat their cattle as they treat themselves?
— I think so, generally, in small places.

24012. And you get £12 to £14?
—I got £12 for one and £14 for another.

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