Kirkwall, Orkney, 23 July 1883 - William T. Norquay

WILLIAM T. NORQUAY, Banker, South Ronaldshay (54)—examined.

24869. The Chairman.
—We have no delegates from South Ronaldshay and should be obliged if you would tell us anything about the state of the people in the island, that you think right ?
—I thought you might desire to put some questions to me in a categorical way; but, if not, I may state that I know South Ronaldshay well, having lived there all my life, and being a native. We have no grievance, as a rule; we have no professional grievance-mongers amongst us, and the people are living peaceably. The landlords do their duty; and as you will observe, the island is one of the largest in Orkney, and is one of the most populous, the population being about 2600. We have another small island near, containing a population of 670, and a smaller one still, containing some fifty people. There are also the Pentland Skerries, on which there are some score of people. I am speaking in round numbers. The rental of South Ronaldshay is some £4300; the rental of Burra is about £800, and the rental of Swana is £20; and of the Pentland Skerries, £40. There is one thing that has been a grievance there, with reference to the taxpayers. We have, I may say, there a few grievances in connection with the rent of the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, for a part of the island belonging to the Earl of Zetland, for which they pay £20 a year; and they are tenants of another part, for which also they pay £20 a year. They pay no local taxes, and the people think that is not fair. The lighthouse keepers are natives of our parish, and might ultimately gravitate towards the Parochial Board, and the Commissioners have made no provision by way of paying taxes. Of course, Lord Zetland pays his share of the taxes, but we lose the taxation on £60—£20 as owner and tenant, and £20 as tenant besides.

24870. How many proprietors are there on the island ?
—They are innumerable. The Earl of Zetland owns about one-half of South Ronaldshay and the whole of Burra and Swana, and Mr Heddle of Melsetter owns another part; and the rest is occupied by a number of small proprietors. There is another small property —the next largest to that of Mr Heddle of Melsetter—belonging to Miss Turnbuil, the rental of which is £600 or thereby. The rental has nearly doubled within my recollection.

24871. You say that Lord Zetland owns about one-half of the island?

24872. Has there been any consolidation of small holdings and any formation of sheep farms?
—None; there are only two farms over £100, and they are occupied by one tenant.

24873. What would be the aggregate value of these two farms—£300 or £400 a year ?
—Some £300 odds; and there are only nine farms over £50 and under £100.

24874. You say that the rental of the island has in your recollection doubled; you mean the rateable value ?
—The rateable value.

24875. Can you give me any idea of how much Lord Zetland's rental has increased?
—No. Lord Zetland's factor is able to give you that; but I think the increase has mostly been on the larger tenants. That is my opinion. Of course there are small places which pay no rent at all or have paid rent only to a small extent —small places out on the hill which the people hold without paying rent, or only paying a small rent.

24876. As a banker, without betraying your constituents in individual cases, you might perhaps give us a general impression as to whether you find any evidence in your accounts that the people are more prosperous than they were in former years?
—It rises and falls. Three or four years previous to the last year or two, people were not doing so well owing to bad crops; and I may state that in these islands we are learning to live more expensively than we used to do than our great-grandfathers did—and we are getting more into the habits of the people in the southern part of the island; and the consequence is that it takes more to keep us going. Then we are taxed to a pretty large extent. I think the local taxation is 4s. 9d. in the pound. And then we have not the privileges that the people have on the mainland of Great Britain—for instance, we have no telegraphic communication. I don't know any complaint that is so general as the want of telegraphic communication with the rest of the country. I have for years done what I could to persuade the Government department and our local members of Parliament to interest themselves in the matter, and all that we can get from Government is an offer to send us the telegraph if we pay the piper. They say
—' If you give us a guarantee of £624 a year for seven years we will send the telegraph to you.' Now here our tenants are paying taxation both national and local, and the consequence is in addition to that we are requested to lay down the telegraph for ourselves. If we lived on the other side of the Pentland Firth the telegraph is ready at our door; and not only that, but tenants and farmers have the advantage of telegraphic and steamboat communication every hour. Now if you rate a tenant at the same ratio in these islands, I think it is nothing more or less than justice that you should afford him all the advantages of the postal and telegraphic communication of the country. I must say I think the Government policy has been rather hard on a loyal people like the Orcadians. I have said in joke, but also a good deal in earnest, to some of my friends down south, that if we hail been more of a landlord-shooting and outrageous class in Orkney we would have had telegraphic communication long before now; but as we have lived a peaceable and quiet life in the country we have been left without it.

24877. I would like to hear you retract the expression ' landlord-shooting.'
—I shall do so. I say we don't do that in Orkney, and would never dream of it.

24878. But it is a dangerous expression?
—Yes, I believe it is.

24879. Although you say the people are not so prosperous as they have been in previous years, can you say, from your knowledge of their circumstances, that they are rather before the world—that they are not embarrassed or in debt ?
—As a rule they are not, but of course there are many exceptions in the population we have of over three thousand people, and there are many small crofts on which the people could not exist at all, unless they got their means of existence out of the sea from fishing. There are many people holding small farms who could not exist without the fishing.

24880. Has the operation of banks been very useful to the people?
—Very useful; they assist the people in many ways.

24881. And you have found that the people have also been useful to the banks ?
—That remains to be proved. The tendency of the people is towards honesty on these islands.

24882. Have you any statement to make respecting the fishing industry on these islands ?
—No, not unless any questions might suggest anything.

24883. Has the class of boats been much improved ?
—Very much. I heard some remark about the decrease of boats in Orkney. The number, I believe, is now about one-half what it used to be. The officer told me there are about two hundred or two hundred and six boats fishing in Orkney, and there have been as many as four hundred. But the twohundred boats now represent as large a value, possibly a larger value, than the four hundred previously did. They are a higher class of boats; but I have no doubt the fishing may still be improved, and the number of boats may increase. They may increase this year in Shetland, and decrease in Orkney.

24884. Have the banks, by advances, been instrumental in improving the condition of the fishing industry?
—No doubt of it.

24885. In the way of enabling them to get a better class of boats and otherwise ?
—Yes, and the curers do a good deal in that way as well.

24886. The curers may benefit by advances?
—Of course, they expect to do so.

24887. Are there any cases in which advances have been made to fishermen themselves to buy boats, or are they generally made through curers?
—Generally through a third party.

24888. Did you ever know a case of fishermen clubbing and coming to the bank, and getting credit to buy a boat?
—Oh yes, that depends on the individual.

24889. But with respectable men, have you found that a safe kind of advance?
—Oh yes.

24890. They prosecute both kinds of fishing —both deep sea and the herring fishing?
—The herring fishing mostly now, but they still do a little in the way of white fishing.

24891. Do they cure in the islands?
—Yes. South Ronaldshay used to be the principal curing station of Orkney at one time, and one proof of that is that the only fishery officer in Orkney resides in our parish. He is the fishery officer for the whole county, so that it was at one time the principal station, when there were some four or five fishery officers in the county.

24892. Have yon many small proprietors of the class we see in Harray—small lairds?
—A few, but not so many comparatively.

24893. But are those you have, in a prosperous condition?
—Some of them.

24894. Do they maintain their position and their holdings?
—Yes; the holdings are generally small. There are two or three good properties on the island besides those I have mentioned, having a rental of perhaps £100 a year.

24895. Are these small properties liable to sub-division or do they maintain themselves in their size 1
—They don't become subdivided. They are generally held by the eldest son.

24896. Are these small proprietors a contented class of people?

24897. Are they proud of their position as proprietors; do they look
upon themselves as a distinct class?

24898. They just mix with the other classes?

24899. Are some of them very ancient tenures?
—No, not very ancient.

24900. You think these little properties have changed hands a good deal?
—A great deal.

24901. Is there evidence of improvement upon them —new houses and new fences?
—Yes, a good deal within the last twenty years —new and better houses.

24902. You think they have taken a start?
—They took a start some thirty years ago and it has been continued. Slate-roofed cottages and houses were the exception thirty years ago, and now they have increased over the whole islands.

24903. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Do you observe any difference in the character of the houses owned by those small proprietors,, and thecharacter of the houses of the crofters, who hold land on lease?
—A little. There are very few lease-holders in our district, the bulk of the people are tenants at will.

24904. I should have said tenants.
—Well, of course, there is a little improvement, but it depends upon the size of the property. Some of
those properties owned by the occupier are only worth £ 2 or £ 3 of rental annually. In a case of that sort the proprietor is generally on a level with a tenant paying that amount of rent.

24905. Take a property worth £ 5 to £ 20 in the occupation of the owner, and another in the occupation of a tenant paying that rental; is there a difference between the houses?
—As a ride the proprietor's house is better, but in other cases, the tenant paying that rental, has as good a house as the owner of a property of that value.

24906. Is it the custom where land is let, for the owner to build the house and to keep it in repair, or is it the tenant who keeps it in repair ?
—The tenant, I think.

24907. The tenant provides the whole building?
—No, in many cases the landlord assists him. He assists the tenant to build, and the tenant then has to keep the house up. I think that is the practice.

24908. Is it a certain proportion of the first cost that the proprietor gives?
—A certain proportion of the first cost the landlord bears.

24909. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You spoke of a grievance you had against the Government or the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, and you also stated that one of the evils that might flow from it, was that the light-keepers might come on the poor's roll; have you ever heard of such a case? does not the Government grant a pension to a lightkeeper if he gets old?
—I am not aware of it.

24910. I ask you this question—did you ever hear of such a person coming upon the Parochial Boards
—I am not aware of the Government giving a pension, but I think there was a case where one of the officials of the Commissioners made application to the Parochial Board. I don't know any provision the Commissioners have for aged or infirm lighthouse keepers.

24911. At all events, whatever it is, you think the Commissioners should pay taxes like everybody else?
—I think so. They are paying them now on Government and charitable buildings and I think it but
fair that the Commissioners should pay as well. But I know that the farmer's standing grievance is the want of telegraphic communication, and I am certain it would be a great advantage to them. I think it is hard lines for the Government to seek such a large guarantee—£624 a year for seven years.

24912. Professor Mackinnon.
—You stated that there were very few large farms, are there many people without land- at all?
—Yes, we have a village of some four hundred people in the island, and there are small places besides that, with very little land. I know places of no rent at all where men are allowed to stay in the hill with a small cot and a little land, and pay no rent or only a few shillings.

24913. Do these people live chiefly by fishing ?
—Yes, and labouring.

24914. In what direction do they fish?
—Chiefly eastward, and sometimes to the west.

24915. Far out?
—Oh yes, near to Fair Isle, the fishermen from our place have been fishing to the south of Fair Isle.

24916. Those engaged in the fishing chiefly complain of the want of telegraphic communication?
—It is a standing grievance with fishermen and farmers. The farmers suffer on account of it.

24917. How often have you steamers?
—Two weekly, one north and one south, but in the winter season we don't know whether the steamer is coming or not owing to the want of the telegraph. Farmers may come with cattle and find no steamer.

24918. Burra has a population of about six hundred?
—Six hundred and seventy.

24919. How many schools are there on the island?

24920. And on the next island, Swana?
—There is no school there.

24921. How many children are there?
—About twelve or fifteen.

24922. How are they educated ?
—We educate them from South Ronaldshay. We send a teacher over a certain portion of the year; we
would be glad if the Department built a small school for them.

24923. Do they come ashore for examination?
—They come ashore to the inspector, and I am glad to say, they make as good an appearance as any children in the kingdom. The inspector's report on the subject is very good. The rental of the island is only £20, so that you can see what the rates would do in the way of providing a school.

24924. How many schools are there in South Ronaldshay?
—Three board schools and a charity school.

24925. An endowed school?

24926. Is that for girls?
—Both girls and boys.

24927. Is there quite efficient education given in that school?
—Yes, as good as in any of the others.

24928. Taking farm for farm,—a £15 farm where a proprietor is occupier and another where a tenant is under a proprietor, you said the house of the proprietor was better as a general rule; what about the
cultivation of the farm?
—It depends vastly upon the individuaL

24929. Take them all in all?
— We have very few cases of proprietors of £15—very few indeed; but the tenant as a rule is equally as good as the proprietor for cultivating the soil

24930. Who considers himself the superior man?
—That depends upon the man himself.

24931. Take that all round again?
—I could not classify them. We always keep that class feeling down as much as possible. We have a
sort of healthy public opinion. The people don't believe in small lairds. They don't look up to a man because he owns fifteen acres.

24932. But do the small lairds believe in themselves?
—I hope they do. If they don't, so much the worse for them.

24933. When one of these small properties comes into the market, is there any very keen competition for it?
—As a rule there is.

24934. What would be about the price that would be paid for it—how many years' purchase?

24935. Of the rateable valuation ?

24936. That would seem to indicate that it is an object of desire on the part of the people to get these small properties?
—Yes, but as a speculation we would not consider it good, but there are many foolish enough to give thirty or forty years' purchase of the rateable value. I have known a case of thirty years' purchase being given.

24937. To what do you attribute that feeling?
—Of course from a commercial point of view we consider it foolish, but from a land-owning point of view it is common in all the country. It is common in the south for mercantile men to buy at thirty years' purchase. Many large estates are purchased by moneyed men. I don't know why they do it, but the fact is -we know they do it, and small men do the same thing apparently.

24938. They pay a price which if it were otherwise invested on good security, would more than pay the rent?
—No doubt of it.

24939. To what do you attribute that?
—Just to the land hunger which exists both among tenants and proprietors. It is a curious fact but it is a fact.

24940. The Chairman.
—Don't you think there is a natural satisfaction in possessing something of your own?
—I quite sympathise with that feeling.

24941. You don't think it is very foolish?
—No, it is only from a commercial point of view.

24942. You think it is a legitimate pleasure?
—Yes, and I am proud to think there are so many men in our country who will invest in land for that very purpose. But I don't like when a man gives a very big price for land and wishes to take a very big rent out of it. If he wants to pay a fancy price for land let him sit down with a small rent. I have known land bought which could not pay fair interest, and at the same time a tenant live upon it.

24943. Professor Mackinnon.
—Is the tendency of these small properties to increase or diminish?
—They have not much chance in South Ronaldshay.

24944. Have you known of a comparatively small estate being split up?

24945. Have you observed in the case of some coming into the market a neighbouring proprietor taking it up?
—Yes, I have known that.

24946. So that the tendency would be to diminish the number of these small estates?
—Yes. I have never seen a small piece cut up, but I have known it bought up by a neighbouring small proprietor.

24947. Sheriff Nicolson.
—At present you cannot know the price at which herring is selling during the season until the end of the week?
—Yes, or three or four days after, and by that time the herring are all away. The fishing ground of the people of South Ronaldshay extends from Wick nearly to Auskerry or approaching to Fair Isle. If fish are being caught up to the north, our fishermen don't know for two days that the fish have been there; or if they are being caught at Wick they don’t know until some time afterwards; and by the time their boats get there the fish are away.

24948. Of course it is with Kirkwall you would wish the communication to be—what is the nearest point?

24949. In fact the want of the telegraph is a great commercial loss to your island?
—Yes; and seeing we are taxed the same as the other parts of the country, we consider it is unfair that we should have to provide ourselves with the telegraph, whereas if we had been a richer community,
the telegraph would have been sent to us.

24950. Do you get the post only once a week?
—Once a day.

24951. But not from the mainland?
—Yes; the boat that comes now to Scapa calls at South Ronaldshay on the way north; but she does not call on the return voyage, so that if we post a letter for the south it goes to Kirkwall and then back again. But we have no complaint about the postal communication.

24952. But of course the want of the telegraph is a very great disadvantage to you in respect of every department of life?
—Every department, and much more to the farmer than ever it has been calculated. The great agitation has been on behalf of the fisherman, but of course, although the fishing is very important, the farmer is concerned also to a great extent, both in the prices of stock, and in order to know when the steamer may be expected.

24953. When did you hear at South Ronaldshay the prices at.the Inverness wool market?
—The first we heard was through the Scotsman or any daily paper.

24954. How soon after the market ?
—Two days.

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