JOHN BROWN, Farmer, Kelton, St Ola (54)—examined.
25135. The Chairman.
—What is your rent?
25136. Have you a statement to make?
—Yes. The first statement I have to make is concerning the sea-weed. We are much aggrieved as
to the sea-weed. The second grievance is the mode of out-warning; and the next is the custom of letting farms. We think all houses should be built by the landlord—that is a grievance by some. We also want compensation for drainage and dykes that may be made upon the farm before removaL These are all the grievances.
25137. What is the nature of the complaint about sea-weed; are you obliged to pay for it?
—We cannot get it, and the claims we endeavour to raise about it are that it is a beach where we have a public road leading right down to it; and yet there are proprietors who consider that although we go down without trespassing to get the sea-weed, we cannot take it. We have more spots than one of that description.
25138. You think you ought to be allowed to take the seaweed from the shore of your farm?
—It is where the public road leads us to it without trespassing. That is what we confidently think.
25139. The shore does not border upon your holding?
—Not by any means.
25140. You think that because there is a public road which leads to the shore you should be allowed to lift the sea-weed?
25141. But suppose all the people in the island wanted to lift it at the same place, there would not be enough for everybody?
—But they are not that whatever.
25142. But does anybody want to get it besides yourself?
—Everybody wants to get it and we want everybody to get a chance if he has got the ability. On a public beach such as we think it is —where our public road which we are paying for leads down without trespassing.
25143. But would you propose to divide it so that everybody might have a fair chance?
—Just let him who is most active take what he can get with peace.
25144. First come first served?
25145. But the strongest man and the richest man might get it, and the poorest man and the weakest man might never get any?
—It would be better if that were the case than that these small crofters who are much the better of it should want it, and it should be on the beach for no use; we must buy it before we can get any.
25146. Whom do you pay to?
—I have never paid any, but I might pay to the proprietor above who seems to claim the beach.
25147. Does the proprietor sell it?
—He will if he can get the chance.
25148. Do you know anybody who has paid for it?
—I don't know anybody that ever exactly volunteered to pay much; but I think there have been some items paid too.
25149. What is the mode of out-warning of which you complain? Is it the short notice?
—Yes; it is only forty days, which is a great disadvantage to a tenant, and is no very helpful thing at all to any proprietor. It is a very disputable matter I should think.
25150. What is it that you complain of about the custom of letting farms?
—I am not very clear about that. I don't find much fault with it myself at all. I was merely asked to make that statement, and I have done it. The only way I think they would like to come to is that they
would not like a farm put up to auction.
25151. That there should be a preference given to the sitting tenant?
—There might be that in some cases; but I don't think that is what they exactly mean either.
25152. What do they mean?
—I think their meaning is that they would have maybe two men to make the proprietor or factor acquainted with the value of the place and then put it into the market, and even although he was to get more than the value, that he would not go so much above it as in some cases he does.
25153. Do you mean that they think the value of the farm ought to be settled by arbitration?
—Yes, or something like that, giving the proprietor to know what the value is if he does not know it himself.
25154. They wish to instruct the proprietor?
25155. And the houses are to be built by the landlord; you think that
would be a good thing?
—Where it is necessary that houses are required. It should be, I think, looked into whether they are necessary or not, and if it is arranged that houses are going to be built it should be upon a limited scale, and not according as the tenant likes, ne might do too much; he might make a house where there was no requirement. But if it is limited, in that case then the tenant should, I think, do all the cartage work and any such thing. But they would wish that the money expenditure on that house was off the proprietor, or that he should assist them in some way or other.
25156. That the proprietor should do the mason work and the skilled labour, and that the tenant should help with carting the raw materials?
—They think so; it is maybe something like the general feeling among the poor crofters that they are not able to build many houses themselves.
25157. How ought the compensation for improvements to be ascertained?
—There are dykes and drainage. The dyke would be valued if the tenant put it up, but he would not be allowed to get compensation for it unless it was a necessary requirement. But if it was a necessary
requirement, both parties should have a little influence in getting it done, and the tenant should get compensation according to the value of the dyke; and drains much upon the same principle I should think.
25158. Do the tenants build many such dykes?
—Yes, they do. These last few years I have not known, in. the district where I am, much of that; but I have seen a good deal of it.
25159. Do the tenants put up many wire fences now?
25160. Is that more the fashion than it was?
25161. Which is preferable?
—I would prefer the dyke by far.
25162. Is there anything else you wish to state?
—There are some few tenants, small crofters out from Scapa, who wish to complain with regard to being too sore rented, and that even that was not done by auction. When a farm is put into the market, we consider it is not put into auction.
25163. Do the poor people sometimes out-bid each other?
—That is not so prevalent with the crofters; the large farmers are much that way.
25164. But the crofters don't do each other any harm?
—It is not so much the case with them so far as we know.
25165. Are you contented with your own croft and your own position?
25166. I understand everything you have said, except about the seaweed.
—Well, that is the most important thing of the whole lot. If your Lordship would allow me, I would turn out a little brighter on this matter. There is a sort of mystical thing in this matter. We don't know whether the title-deeds carry him clean out in reference to this shore, and he wont tell us, but he will go and threaten us, and so on. He will tell us that he will put us in the hands of so and so, and you will know who that is. Then we come down for a pickle sand and we cannot get it; we must pay so much for it. A man able to go and take ten or a hundred loads will get it as he pays for it, but we cannot get it; and this is on the same public beach, and it is all substances that the sea removes back and forward, and at the public road which we pay for making and keeping up. That road leads right down to the beach, free of all trespass.
25167. Could not you and some of your neighbours agree with each other to go and take some sand and sea-weed, and they would interdict you; and you might raise a suit which you could have decided by a court of law?
—Yes, but there are not so many of us as are able to meet these interdicts.
25168. You could not afford it?
—Not by any means. It would take fifty or sixty of us to manage that, and it might be ten or a dozen of years before we could gather it up.
25169. Could not you ask some of the friends of the crofters to help you?
—1 would have some knowledge given us exactly about these title deeds, or give us the liberty of the free beach that the public road leads us to. I would beg very sincerely that that matter be investigated by the Royal Commission before us. I hope they will make that a matter of investigation.
25170. Mr Cameron.
—Did you ever take a legal opinion about it?
—I don't think I ever did, but I know those who have done it,
25171. That would not cost so much as an interdict?
—It costs a shilling.
25172. But amongst all the crofters you could raise a shilling?
—Yes, You might pay a shilling about what is your own; and if it is not your own, I would almost say I would find fault with the law on that account, because I don't think it is right to give a man a right in his title-deeds to take anything on which the sea washes. If a large stick comes down upon this man's property, it belongs to the Government, and the Government belongs to the sea-weed as well.
25173. The Chairman.
—It is not what is attached to the stones, drift sea-weed to which you refer?
—Yes. Before I claim it to be mine, it is dashed about and laid upon the margin of the sea-beach.
25174. But would you gather the drift sea-weed and leave what was growing on the rocks alone?
—I would have no wish to touch what is fixed, just what is loose, and the sand is loose as well It may be here to-day and away to-morrow. We get a certain kind of weather and could take it without harming any other man. I would wish the Commission understood me. There are others as aggrieved at it as I am, and I would wish you to understand it that it is of double value to us crofters two miles from the sea, more than to those living at the face of it, and even there, if it was going to be free to all, they would have a better chance of it, as they are near it.
25175. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Who is the person you are complaining of, who does not allow you to take the sea-weed and sand?
—There are several places, and I think it is prevalent through Orkney.
26576. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are you here to-day representing a number of other crofters, or are you only for yourself?
—I am a delegate for St Ola.
25177. You were chosen at a public meeting?
25178. Where was the meeting held?
—In the Old Court Room down here.
25179. Were there many people at it?
—A good many—about a score. I don't think there was much occasion for a great many, because I don't think there are many grievances about here, except what I have stated. It is of very little value at all.
25180. Were there any crofters there?
25181. How many?
—I could not easily say. I should say maybe nine or ten; but it may be more or less.
25182. The matter of the beach is your principal grievance?
—That is my one.
25183. And the forty days out-warning and want of compensation for drains and dykes are the other chief grievances?
—Well they don't affect me much, but still I was asked to mention them. With regard to out-warning, I think I would state that I think it should not be later than the month of March previous; forty days gives the farmer a very bad chance, and it is a thing that is of very little benefit at all to proprietors. It is as easy, when he is to dismiss a man, to tell him in March as forty days before the term; but of course when the law is that way, he is quite right to take advantage of it.