Kirkwall, Orkney, 23 July 1883 - James Leonard

JAMES LEONARD, Crofter and Mason, Digro, Rousay (46)—examined.
(See Appendix A, LVII)

24790. The Chairman.
—Are you a general builder?
—I build houses, but I am not a builder, I suppose, in the real sense of the term. Being a delegate from the crofters in Rousay, I have been asked to make a special request for them, and that is, that our proprietor will injure no person for giving their evidence before the Royal Commission.

24791. Is the factor or proprietor present?
—I think they are both present.
—[General Burroughs]. I am the proprietor, and my factor is also present,

24792. Is General Burroughs prepared to give an assurance to the tenants on his property, that no prejudice will happen to them in consequence of what they state ?
—[General Burroughs]. I am not prepared to do so. It is contrary to human nature, that I could treat a man who spoke of me so inimically as one or two have done here, in the same way as other men who are friendly disposed. Whatever I might say, my feelings could not be so, after the people have vilified me as they have done to-day.

24793. The Chairman.
—You are not prepared to give that assurance?
—[General Burroughs]. I am not prepared to do so.

24794. The Chairman.
—You are aware that you will have an opportunity, either in person or through your factor of making any statement you please afterwards?
—[General Burroughs]. Yes.

24795. The Chairman.
—But notwithstanding that, you are not prepared to give any assurance?
—[General Burroughs]. I cannot have the same feeling towards them. I have tried to do my duty as honourably and justly as I could all my life, with these tenants as with everybody else, and I cannot have the same feeling towards the men who have come forward and stated the things that have been stated here. It is contrary to human nature to be so friendly disposed to them as to others who do not make these complaints.

24796. The Chairman.
—But, General Burroughs, if I may take the liberty of saying so, I have not asked you about the state of your feelings towards them; I have asked you in respect to your intentions towards them.
—[General Burroughs]. My intentions would be for them to go away simply. They are not slaves; they are free men and need not remain here if they don't like. If they are not satisfied here they can go
away. I have ninety or a hundred tenants, and there are only those four who are giving evidence, and some of those are not tenants. Grieve, who has been mentioned, is not on the tenant roll. Mr MacCallum is on the roll.
—[Rev. Mr MacCallum]. We speak on behalf of all the tenants.

24797. The Chairman.
—Well, but I want to arrive at an understanding with General Burroughs. I would ask you, General Burroughs, to consider this. That we are sitting here as a Royal Commission, and our object and our duty is to elicit the truth ; and we have in other parts of the country generally found that the proprietors were willing to assist us to this extent—indeed to every extent, but to this extent particularly —that they have given us a public assurance, that nothing that their tenants will say, whether they consider it true or false, would have any influence on their conduct towards those tenants afterwards. In that way the Commission have had perfect freedom in their inquiry, and the witnesses have had perfect freedom in their statements; and we have experienced much benefit from that. It is true that the examination with reference to your estate, has nearly terminated, but still we might have occasion to ask something else, and the absence of an assurance on your part might have the effect of restraining the people from saying what they really feel. I would ask you to reconsider your statement, and say whether you are not, on reconsideration, able to state that nothing that is said here to-day will influence your action, towards those persons, whatever your feelings may be.
—[General Burroughs]. I feel perfectly certain that whatever I do after this, will always be put down to
this now. Mr Leonard will think —his father's lease is up—if I were to remove him, that it was owing to what he said. Everything I do will be attributed to this meeting, and my hands will be tied completely. That is my feeling on the subject. Is the property mine, or is it not mine? If it is mine, surely I can do what I consider best for it? If these people are not contented and happy, they can go away.

24798. Mr Cameron.
—Would you go to this extent, and say that anything you do on the estate will be done in connection with the proper working of the estate, and not in consequence of anything that may be said here? You have said you are afraid that anything you do, will be attributed to the result of this meeting. Will you state that that is not the case, and that you will continue to manage the estate to the best of your ability, independently of anything that is to be said here ?
—[General Burroughs]. Am I to greet discontented people here? There is no satisfying some people : you may do what you please and they will never be contented.

24799. Mr Cameron.
—I was only using your own words. You said everything you do would be attributed to what is said here. Now wont you give us an assurance that nothing you do will be in consequence of any evidence given here, but in connection with the proper and right management of your estate ?
—[General Burroughs]. I say I will do my duty honestly and justly as I have hitherto done.

24800. Mr Cameron.
—And that what you may do will not be done in consequence of the evidence which may be led before us on the present occasion?
—[General Burroughs]. But whether my actions may be tinged in that way it is very difficult to say.

24801. Mr Cameron.
—If you say they will not be influenced, that is all we ask. If the people attribute motives which are not accurate, we have nothing to do with that. All we want is an assurance that you will conduct the estate as you have hitherto endeavoured to do, and not make any alterations in consequence of the evidence which may be given.
—[General Burroughs]. My intention is to try and make the people labourers, who are not able to work their holdings, and to throw their holdings into larger farms; but not to remove them from the land, and that is what I have done with Mrs Inkster. I left her husband in the house which he had.

24802. The Chairman.
—I understand that General Burroughs has not given a distinct unambiguous assurance that he will do nothing to any individual in consequence of what is said here to-day. If that is the case, it remains with the delegate to give evidence or not as he pleases. He must do it at his own hazard, as it is impossible for us to interfere between the delegate and his proprietor, or between the delegate and the
law. We can give him no security, and no assurance whatever. He may therefore continue to give evidence or not as he likes.
James Leonard. I may go on. You see the state of matters, and you see the necessity for a change. I am very happy to see this Commission here to-day.

24803. You are not bound to give any opinion upon the Commission, but you are to state your own case to the extent you wish.
—I may state my case. General Borroughs says I am always opposed to him. I daresay he means by that, that I am gifted with a little common sense, and that when I see persons going wrong I am always trying for the right. That is the reason I have been so much persecuted. I challenge anyone to say I have been acting unlawfully in anything; and with regard to the statements made here to-day, why should they be angry at us for making our statement to the Commission sent down by Government? We are telling only the truth, and you are here to receive evidence of the truth; and because we do that we will be evicted from our places and holdings. Certainly there is much need for a change of the law, and security of tenure. I think you have the strongest evidence before you to-day that you have had, perhaps, since you left London; and although I may have to leave the land, I am prepared to speak the truth, and will not be cowed down by landlordism. I consider as Burns says—' A man's a man for a' that.'

24804. I think I must ask you to alter the tone of your evidence a little. This is not a proper place for making a speech or an address, and I must ask you to state your case in temperate language.
—I will confine myself then to questions about my croft.

24805. Not only about your croft but about the general case of the people, and your own case as far as it illustrates that; but do it in a quiet manner.
—It rouses one's feelings a little at times, my Lord.

24806. You have heard the statement which the Rev. Mr MacCallum has made. Were you acquainted with that statement before ?
—Partly. Mr MacCallum has had very little acquaintance with the subject, and could not give very good evidence on many points, because he has not been long in the place.

24807. Is there anything now which you wish to add to the statement he presented ?
—Well just about the little croft I have —if I may speak to it—it may throw a good deal of light on the subject

24808. Well then let us hear your own case?
—I occupied a small croft said to be about eight acres in extent. The house was built by my father on the common, and for a considerable time he paid no rent, because no man claimed it. There were different proprietors then.

24809. About what time was that ?
—I daresay fifty or sixty years ago, but I could not exactly state the time. Afterwards the lands came into the hands of one proprietor, the present.

24810. On whose ground was the house built fifty or sixty years ago?
—No one claimed it to my knowledge; it was common.

24811. And your father paid no rent?

24812. And then it was transferred to whom?
—To General Burroughs. The whole came into his hands, and then rent was laid on amounting to
thirty shillings.

24813. When this transfer took place, who had been the proprietor connected with the common? You say it did not belong to anybody, but as there was a transfer, there must have been somebody who pretended to sell it?
—I could not say. I daresay the Earl of Zetland; or it would be the Crown.

24814. But the common came into the possession of General Burroughs? How did he become possessed of it?

24815. How did he become possessed of it?
—I cannot answer that question.

24816. Was it divided in consequence of a process before the Court of Session?
—Not that I am aware of; I did not know of any adjudication, and the poor crofters did not know anything, but just had to pay the rent.

24817. When was the croft added to these houses, or how did you get the croft?
—It was a heathery hillside, and by means of manual labour—for there were no ploughs—they turned some of the heather and turf, and broke out some small patches.

24818. How much did your father take in altogether?
—It is said now to be eight acres, but I cannot tell you whether that is correct or not, because I have not seen the survey.

24819. Was the whole of this land taken in before General Burroughs became proprietor?
—Long before.

24820. When General Burroughs became proprietor, was it his uncle or himself?
—I think it was himself. I think it was in General Burroughs' time. I don't think my father paid any rent to the uncle.

24821. Can anybody here state whether it was General Burroughs personally?
—[General Burroughs]. This croft was held from year to year till 1856, and after that the rent was £1, 2s. for seven years. Then it was increased to £1, 10s., at which rent he held it for other seven years. At the end of that time another lease was granted at £ 3; and since the expiry of that lease he has been a tenant-at-will, the rent being £ 1.

24822. What I want to know is whether this man's father began paying rent to you personally, or to some member of your family?
—He was one of the tenants on some land which my uncle Traill purchased from Lord Zetland. Lord Zetland sold to my uncle all he had in various parts of the island. This place Digro was part of it.

24823. Was it in your own time or was it in the time of your uncle?
—It was in my time—about 1853.

24824. What was the first-amount of rent paid?
—£1, 10s.

24825. How long ago was that?
—In 1856.

24826. (To James Leonard).
—When did your father die?
—Only last year.

24827. It is your father's case, in fact. What did your father do, and what rise of rent took place?
—At the time that he paid the £ 1 , 10s. he had the use of all the hill pasture round him. We kept sometimes two or three cattle, two or three sheep, and so forth, and that increased until it came to £3. Still he had the use of the hill pasture, although it was increased to £ 3; but latterly the simple croft itself —eight acres, said to be—was £1. £1 was added to it, and at the same time the common was
cut off at the very mark.

24828. And when your father died last year, that was the state of the case—£1 for eight acres?
—Yes, and had been for some time before. He had not done anything with it for ten or twelve years before.

24829. You had been acting for him?
—Yes, for more than twenty years.

24830. Did your father have a lease of it ?
—[General Burroughs]. I see that this was part of the land which Lord Zetland sold to me, and it appears in 1853 and 1854 to have been occupied by a tenant at-will, who paid £ 1 , 2s.

24831. When your father died did you remain in possession of the croft?
—James Leonard. Yes.

24832. Are you in possession now?

24833. At what rent ?

24834. You are a mason; have you improved the house?
—There was no house there, and I have built a good house on it.

24835. When you built that house did you make any stipulation with the proprietor or factor for compensation?
—None whatever.

24836. Then you are at this moment tenant-at-will, and if you leave it, unless the proprietor chooses, you have no claim to compensation?
—None whatever.

24837. You say there are about eight acres of it?
—It is said so; that is all within the fence.

24838. What stock do you keep?
—One cow.

24839. What else?
—Nothing; and that is rather too much for it.

24840. How much have you got of it in cultivation ?
—I could not be accurate, but perhaps three acres; but then we never get our seed out of it. I have had to purchase my seed all round for a number of years back.

24841. Have you got constant employment at your trade?
—Not constant. I went to Glasgow one year for the summer.

24842. But do you generally find employment as a mason on the island?
—Not generally; many times none.

24843. When you work as a mason, do you work by the hour or by the day?
—Both ways.

24844. What do you get an hour?
—The highest here is £ 1 per week. They don't work much by the hour here. I have got twenty-four
shillings a week —four shillings a day—but that is not general here.

24845. What is the lowest wage you ever got?
—One and sixpence a day.

24846. You mean that when you began working at this trade, the wages were not more than one and sixpence a day?
—I only got a shilling a day.

24847. Was that as journeyman?
—As journeyman.

24848. You mean since you became a competent mason?
—Yes; I have wrought at a shilling a day.

24849. Then your wages as a mason have risen from one shilling to four shillings?
—Yes; but very few get four shillings with us.

24850. Were they raised from one shilling to three and sixpence?
—No, to three shillings. That is the general thing. I have got four shillings because I was considered perhaps rather superior to some.

24851. Have you anything else to state besides what we have heard on behalf of the people who have sent you here?
—I have to state that there is such an amount of landlord-terror hanging on them—I was asked to
state that—that they would be pleased if the Commission would do what they could to have the cause of that terror removed. You cannot fail to see that that terror exists. I had a statement from another crofter, but I don't think it necessary to read it.

24852. You can leave it with us.
—It just amounts to the same thing. I wish to refer to something that was mentioned in our statement. The expression occurred—' wanton and unrighteous conduct.' I may give an—- example of that—the case of a woman in our island whom the proprietor visited, when she was on her death-bed. She had a small croft, and he would have to leave it, because he was going to give it to another person—a stranger. She said she would never leave it until she was put to a house from which no man could remove her. He said—What house is that?—and she said—' Where I will be buried;' and he struck his stick on the ground and said, ' Would you like to be buried here on this floor?'

24853. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is your authority for making that statement: was it the poor woman herself?
—More than that; there are witnesses beside me who can speak to it.

24854. People who heard it ?

24855. Has the proprietor laid out much money in the improvement of the estate for the benefit of the small tenants ?
—I am not aware of any for the small tenants, but there has been borrowed money laid out —I don't consider it anything but a grievance, because 6½ per cent, has been charged for it, which is just adding to the rent of the farms.

24856. I need not ask you if you concur in the statement read by Mr MacCallum?
—I concur in it fully.

24857. It is not overstated 1
—It is not, and you can see that.

24858. You declare that upon full consideration?
—I do; I am in earnest.

24859. Considering the responsibility you have to the public and everybody, you make that statement?
—I do, thoroughly and in earnest. We are in earnest about it. It is a shame the work that was in Rousay.

24860. Are you a native of Rousay?

24861. And have your predecessors been upon this place?
—Yes; but I believe I belong originally to the Highlands.

24862. Do you concur in the statement by Mr MacCallum that he would know an Egilshay man by his dress and appearance?
—I would concur cordially in that, because they are so happy. They are just like living under Queen Victoria, they are so happy. We are under the despotism and terror of the landlord, and we want that removed; and even though I should fail in this battle, I will fight it out,

24863. Rev. Mr MacCallum.
—May I be allowed to make an observation? The question has been put to every witness if he concurs in the statement read by me. I would like your Lordship to put that question to all the delegates present—there is only one remaining—and it will satisfy your Lordship that the statement is that of the people themselves.

24864. The Chairman.
—'Who are the additional delegates ?
—The question has been put to James Leonard and George Leonard.

24865. Is William Robertson here?
— No.

24866. Who is the other delegate?
—James Grieve.

24867. Who else?
—They are all present. I think you asked Mrs Inkster.

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