Kirkwall, Orkney, 23 July 1883 - Benjamin Swanson

BENJAMIN SWANSON, Factor for Dr Traill, North Ronaldshay, and Ground Officer, Sanday (37). —examined.

25184. The Chairman.
— Do you come here spontaneously to make a statement, or are you a delegate ?
—I am not a delegate. I come here in consequence of some statements made in Sanday by Mr Muir in connection with the property with which I am connected. The statement I would like to make with regard to that, is that Mr Muir was not appointed a delegate, for the North Ronaldshay men never asked him to speak for them. It was spontaneous evidence on his part; and besides he knows nothing about the island and his evidence is worth nothing. I do not believe he ever had his foot upon it. He made some statements about Dr Traill's management. He said that but for the tyranny of the proprietor he believed the people would have been across from North Ronaldshay. Now that is very far from being true. It is well known Dr Traill is a lenient proprietor, the people have made no complaint to Dr Traill or me, and I believe they are living as happily as any people in Orkney or out of it, Mr Muir made a statement about Dr Traill preventing the people starting fishcuring. Now the two lads who tried to start the business had no means of their own, and it is quite true that they did bring a boat's cargo of salt, perhaps six or seven tons; but they did so without asking Dr Traill any liberty for the use of the store or use of the ground to dry fish. Dr Traill did not prevent them; he actually give them the use of the store, but said he did not think it would be a benefit for them or the people to start the business. He asked them a day or two after what they were to do and they said—Well, Sir, we have given up the idea.' ' We do not think it will do us any good;' and they sold the salt in North Ronaldshay. Mr Muir said they sold part of it in Kirkwall, but that is not true, they sold it all on the spot.

25185. Was it bought by a fishcurer in the island?
—There is no fishcurer in the island. The people cure their own fish and get a larger price than they would get if there was a curer there. They would only get the price of green fish from a curer, whereas they get the full maker's value as it is.

25186. I understood you to say that these lads did not ask Dr Traill for leave to use the shore; I thought it was in the power of everybody engaged in fishing to use the shore?
—It is the store. Neither did they make any provision for making a curing station on the island. They did not ask anything about that,

25187. I understood you also to say they had not asked for leave for the use of the shore for drying the fish?
—Well, of course the fish must be dried above high water mark, and they did not ask liberty to dry
them there.

25188. I thought the law allowed fishermen to do that?
—I do not think so; they must pay rent for it I should think.

25189. But if the shore is not enclosed and cultivated, have not fishermen under an Act of Parliament got a right to dry their fish on the shore?
—I do not think so; I am not aware of it. I do not think they have any right to erect a fishcuring station without asking the liberty of the proprietor and paying rent for it.

25190. The procurator fiscal says the fishermen have the right to do it, but not the fishcurers ?
—Possibly that is it.

25191. But these men might have been fishermen as well as fishcurers?
—They were not fishermen, and Dr Traill told them he did not believe it would do themselves or the people good. He was just afraid they would very likely put up a store along with it—a grocery place—to supply the fishermen. He was afraid the people would not be well served, because the men who proposed to start the thing had no means, and he was afraid the thing might partake a good deal of the truck system if it went on.

25192. Dr Traill wishes everybody to be free to catch and dry fish and not fall into the power of the curers?
—That was his wish particularly. He spoke to me afterwards and asked if I thought it would be a
good thing to start a fishing station in North Ronaldshay, and I said it might, but only if a good man could be got But the people have no disadvantage by curing their own fish, but rather an advantage, because they get the prices of dry marketable fish, whereas in selling to the curers, they would only get the price of green fish.

25193. Is there a shopkeeper in the island who is able to sell them all they want?
—Yes, and besides they go to Kirkwall regularly in the summer time, and they have communication with Sanday once a week and want for nothing in that way. I saw some of them on Saturday myself and they were astonished at Muir's statement. I believe he tried to create an agitation and get some to come over, and they were astonished that he should talk of Dr Traill being tyrannical, because they said he was always very kind to them. Dr Traill goes about amongst them regularly when lie is in the island. It was the statement about Dr Traill particularly that I wished to contradict, because I know it will hurt the people's feelings.

25194. Mr Cameron.
—Have you any other statement you wish to make about the estate?
—I do not think so.

25195. Is the land occupied by large farmers or small farmers?
—By small farmers except some land the proprietor holds in his own hands.

25196. Within what range do rents extend?
—£2 to £39, 10s., none above that.

25197. Have we had any other witnesses or delegates from North Ronaldshay before us?

25198. Have these tenants got all their land enclosed within fences, or have they any hill pasture or common grazing?
—They have some common grazing which is enclosed, but their lands otherwise are pretty open; in fact there is rather too much enclosed. There are some patches which would have been better left open.

25199. Is there none of their land taken away to create sheep farms?
—None. There has not been any change on the estate for a long time.

25200. Are there any other proprietors in North Ronaldshay besides Dr Traill?

25201. Are the rates and taxes as high as in some other parts of Orkney ?
—We have no road tax. The other taxes are the same as in Cross and Burness, Sanday. The poor rate and school rate amount to about Is. 2d. The tenants' share of the poor rate is about 7½ d. and of the school rate about 6½d. These are all the local taxes the tenants pay. Mr Muir also mentioned about the houses being bad. They do not look very well on the outside, but they are very comfortable inside.

25202. Who is Mr Muir?
—He is a merchant in Sanday who knows nothing, I believe, about North Ronaldshay. He never was in the island to my knowledge.

25203. Has he any dealings with the people specially?
—He does deal with the people; in fact he is doing more harm there than any person I know. He sends goods across there, and employs a man who travels over the island selling them.

25204. How does he do harm by that?
—He must have that profit and the man must have his, and before the goods get to the people they will likely have to pay more for them than if they were to go and buy elsewhere. Besides he is bringing the goods to the people's door, and encouraging them to buy things they could do very well without.

25205. You think he was not only not appointed delegate, but that he has never been in the island?
—I don't believe he ever was in the island. He made a statement which was very unwarrantable, and he had no knowledge of the place.

25206. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Were you present at Sanday the other day?

25207. Did you hear Mr Muir make this statement?

25208. Why did you not contradict him?
—1 had no opportunity.

25209. You are a volunteer here?
—Yes; I spoke on Friday to be allowed to come here to-day.

25210. Why did you not on that day ask to be allowed to contradict the statement?
—I asked to be allowed, but I wanted simply to suit the Commissioners' convenience.

25211. The Chairman.
—Mr Swanson did offer; I remember quite well.

25212. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You were quite prepared to contradict everything which was said?

25213. Were you prepared to make the same charges in Mr Muir's presence as you have done in his absence?
—Yes, only I went to North Ronaldshay on Saturday, and I am in a better position to-day to speak on
some points than I was then.

25214. Where do you live?

25215. How often do you go to North Ronaldshay?
—In the summer time perhaps once a month. In winter I am not so often there.

25216. You do not think it would be an advantage to the island or to the people to develop its industries by having a curing establishment?
—If we could get a good man; it would depend upon that; Dr Traill has no objections if he got a curer who was a good man. By a good man I mean a judicious man, a man of means who could carry it on and pay the people ready money for their fish. The people who attempted to start business had no means and they told me on Saturday that they were very glad now that Dr Traill spoke to them. Dr Traill did not prevent them doing it, but they were glad that they had not carried it on.

25217. Don't you think they must have thought seriously about the matter when they brought salt all the way from Kirkwall?
—They knew the expense was very little, and I have no doubt they made a profit off the salt. The salt was required in the island and they would make the freight out of it. Besides it could not have been more than six or seven tons which they brought.

25218. Are merchants prevented from opening places of business in the island?
—No there are plenty of merchants in this island; too many for their own good.

25219. You said you saw some of the people of North Ronaldshay?
—I did.

25220. Would it not have been more satisfactory if you had brought some of them here to-day?
—It might, but I did not ask them. If they had any grievance they would have spoken to me about it previous to now, or they might have spoken to Dr TrailL

25221. Have you been long a factor?
—Since 1876.

25222. I suppose you know the island and all its capacities and capabilities?

25223. You are perfectly satisfied with the state of it?
—Yes, but I would like if it were improved.

25224. What is wrong with it?
—There are a good many things we would like. I would like to see the people all work better; but they devote part of their time to farming, and part to fishing, and do not work both to advantage.

25225. The real state of matters is that the landlord has a grievance rather than the people?
—Yes, he is not coming forward with grievances, but he has more occasion to give evidence in that way than the people. The people seem to be very happy indeed, if they were let alone.

25226. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—It was stated that the people in North Ronaldshay had elected the Free Church minister as delegate, but he had gone abroad, and he asked Mr Muir to represent him?

25227. Mr Muir said Mr Grant promised to send a written statement, which he did not do.
—I do not believe Mr Grant asked Mr Muir. Mr Muir said he was not asked to represent the people, but that Mr Grant said he was to send a written statement which he, Muir, had not got.

25228. Was there a meeting in North Ronaldshay appointing Mr Grant?
—No. There was a meeting in Sanday, at which Mr Grant was appointed a delegate, but I never heard that he had accepted the office. I never heard anything more about it until Friday last before the Commissioners in Sanday.

25229. Were the people of North Ronaldshay at that meeting?
—None of them.

25230. So Mr Grant had no commission any more than Mr Muir?
—No, it was at a meeting of crofters in Sanday, that he was proposed as a delegate.

25231. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Of what place is Mr Grant minister?
—He was then minister of North Ronaldshay, but he has now gone to Australia.

25232. Has he left for good ?

25233. The Chairman.
—You said it was the landlord rather than the tenants who had cause of complaint in North Ronaldshay, can you tell me when the rental of North Ronaldshay was increased?
—Not in my time, nor yet for a good while before, I think.

25234. Taking a period of thirty years?
—Well, I am not aware that it has been raised in that time.

25235. Have you any large farms upon the island at all?
—There have been none since I remember.

25236. It remains in its old condition?
—It remains in the condition in which it was a long time ago.

25237. Have you seen the old rental books and accounts of the property?

25238. But you have heard people speak about the matter; have you ever heard any tradition of rents having been increased?
—No, I am not aware of it. Very likely they have been increased, but it must have been a long time ago. I suppose they have increased there as well as elsewhere, but it is a great number of years since there was any rise.

25239. Is it the custom to give any waste land on improving leases to the tenants?
—The tenants in North Ronaldshay do not want leases. They have so much faith in the proprietor, that they do not want leases. He is quite willing to give them leases if they want them.

25240. Do they ever build houses themselves?
—It is a long time since they built houses, but they keep them in repair.

25241. Does the proprietor ever rebuild houses?
—He gives assistance occasionally.

25242. What are the houses like? Have they the fires on the floor?
—No they have chimneys; if they only had slate roofs they would look very respectable indeed.

25243. Have they two rooms now, generally?
—All of them, and some more. They have wooden partitions, and some have wooden floors and a coomceiled place above. They look better inside than out.

25244. Are the small holdings subdivided, or do the young people go away to other places?
—The young people stop too much on the land, but we prevent subdividing as much as possible. It is not allowed, but they sometimes stay against the proprietor's wish. If Dr Traill was a tyrant they would not be allowed to stay, but they depend a good deal on the fishing—some of the smaller holdings —and on the kelp-working.

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