JAMES BRIMS, Solicitor, Thurso, Factor for Mr Traill of Ratter (55)— examined.
23262. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You have been present to-day?
23263. We had one representative of this part of the island, who referred to Mr Traill's tenantry; you heard what was said?
23264. Have you any statement to make with regard to that?
—Which part of it?
23265. Anything you wish to remark upon in the first place?
—In the first place, in regard to the meliorations and improvements upon the estate here, I believe Mr Traill, my constituent, is as indulgent to the tenants on the property in Sanday and Stronsay as any other landlord all over the north of Scotland. I may mention that I am connected with the county of Caithness, where he has large property with a rental of £8000 or £9000; and he treats his tenants in Orkney on the same principle as he does the tenants there. The late Mr George Traill, when he was proprietor, did increase the rent occasionally, but he never did so without getting a valuation made by a competent party. The improvements consisted principally of drainage, and a good deal of the money was spent in building good substantial houses upon the estate. The proprietor took up the greater part of the money he borrowed, and a good amount from his own private income. The tenants did not insist upon getting their houses done until their land was first improved, and I think very wisely too, so that we are still going on spending money in building and providing good house accommodation in the way of dwelling houses and office houses for the tenants on the estate. It is a rule upon the estate that leases are always granted for 14 or 19 years as the tenants may prefer. I always recommend them to take a long term, as I believe it to be of most benefit to themselves; and I find it a very curious thing that, when I enter into a lease with an Orkney tenant, he always insists upon having a break at the end of the first second or third year, and I never hesitate to give them that option, because I know it is never taken advautage of. It never has been taken advantage of. I am very much astonished to hear, as I have done to-day, certain grievances stated. It quite surprised me to hear there was any grievance at all on this estate. It is stated that the laud is too high rented. I now hold in my hand the last valuation Mr Traill got from a gentleman whom you will all recollect—the late Mr M'Phee of Elgin, who was, I believe, supposed to be one of the best valuators in the north of Scotland. And I may state that the crofters, of whom there are fifty-one on Mr Traill's estate in this island alone, are paying at present from 10 to 25 per cent, less rent than Mr M'Phee valued these crofts at in 1876, and these rents have still remained at the same amount; so that, so far as the complaint of over-renting is concerned, I think there is no ground for it. The next complaint they make is with regard to the kelp. The price paid to the tenants for the manufacture of kelp is said to be £2, 5s. That is correct to a certain extent; but they leave out of view that the tenants deliver at the rate of 20 cwt. to one ton, whereas the marketable amount is 21 cwt_so that the real price is £2, 7s. 3d. I make up, generally every year, a statement, with observations, so that Mr Charles Traill's property or income tax be as assessed upon it, and I have brought with me the statement for the last two years. There I find that for the year 1881, the amount of kelp made upon Mr Traill's estate both in Sanday and Stronsay was 109 tons, the proceeds of which had a market value of £515, 10s. 3d. Of that sum he paid away in expenses £70, 6s. 3d., and he paid to the crofters who gathered and manufactured and burnt the kelp, £255, 14s. 9d.; so that the balance coming to himself was only £219, 15s. 3d. for the year. But from that there remains to be deducted the taxes he paid upon the rent charged him for the kelp shores. I believe it is not generally known among the tenants—and I think they should know it—that the proprietor is assessed—charged with a rent for his kelp shores—in proportion to the amount of the profits made out of them, that is, the quantity of kelp manufactured —so that out of the £219, compared with the £255 paid to the people, who wrought the kelp, Mr Traill has to pay all the taxes falling upon him as proprietor in connection with the proceeds of the kelp.
23266. I suppose the proprietor pays a double rate on the kelp?
—Yes, he first pays the due and then the income tax upon the profits. He pays upon the £219 income tax, and then the property tax upon the rent put upon the shares—that is one-half of the net profits. For the year 1882 the manufacture of kelp was much less —71 tons 15 cwt., the market value of which was £357, 10s. 3d. The expense of keeping up the kelp tools and shipping and other expenses connected with it, amounted to £59, 11 s. 7d., and that year there was paid to the tenants £167, 14s. 2d., having a balance of £130, 4s. 6d. for the proprietor, subject to those deductions I have already mentioned for public burdens and taxes.
23267. The Chairman.
—How much was the net profit to the proprietor1?
—I have not been able to get that, as the vouchers are out of my hands, but perhaps £30 or £ 40; so that for the year 1882 he would really not have £100; and the tenants get £167, 14s. 2d. This year, I am glad to say, it will be a little better; it will come up to about 100 tons instead of 71. I may mention the fact that, some years ago, the profits of the kelp were such, when prices came down, that Mr Traill had some thoughts of giving up the manufacture of it altogether. But I spoke to him on the subject, and said that from my knowledge of the tenants in Sanday, which extends back now since 1858, nearly a quarter of a century, that I did not think they would be able to pay their rents unless they were employed in the manufacture of kelp, so that he has still been carrying it on simply and purely for the benefit of the tenants, to enable them to pay their rents and support themselves. This year, I am sorry to say, we have been threatened with a reduction in the prices. The price formerly was £5, 10s. a ton. This year, all over, all we could get was £4, 15s., only we have made an arrangement with Mr Fairley, who purchases the kelp, that if he gives a higher price to any proprietor in Orkney we will get the benefit of it, so that the tenants will benefit by getting the full profits that can be made out of the kelp, —that is, that he will make the best bargain he can for them. I may mention that some of the tenants recently sent a petition to Mr Traill somewhat in the lines they have taken to-day, stating that the crofts were high rented, and that they wanted to get the kelp handed over to themselves, to gather, manufacture, and sell in any way they thought proper. I do not think, taking into account the interests of the tenants themselves, that that would be a good arrangement, because they could not sell it, at the same advantage that the proprietor could do; and, as I have said, the kelp manufacture here is carried on by the proprietor, not for his own interest, but simply as a source of revenue to his tenants on his estate here. I don't think I have anything more to say.
23268. There is a clear revenue from it?
—The benefit he derives will bo under £100, but that does not take into account the trouble I have with it in selling, and corresponding and making up accounts; I charge the estate with my own factor's fee and expenses. I was very much astonished to-day to hear from these witnesses who came from Mr Trail's property in Stronsay, on his estate of the Housebay, the statement made, in the first place, that their rents were too high, I have to make the same remark with regard to that which I did with regard to the Sanday property. Mr M'Phee valued these properties, and their rents are in the same proportion as those of the Sanday tenants. With reference to the charge that the proprietor has done nothing to assist the crofters, I may mention that in the case of James Shearer, who pays a rent of £4, 15s., I have actually incurred accounts to the amount of £33, 15s. 6d. in connection with his holding. In the same way an expenditure has been incurred in assisting the witness Maxwell to erect a dwelling house on his croft. The rule in regard to the dwelling houses on Mr Traill's estate is this, that the tenant puts the stones upon the ground and builds them, aud the proprietor provides wood, woodwork, slates, flags, and lime. That is done for the purpose of keeping down taxes. On many estates the proprietor incurs the whole outlay, and charges interest on it, but I adopted the arrangement I have mentioned for the purpose of keeping down the rates of the tenants; so that their rents are not increased any further. We have assisted these cottars —as we do upon the whole estates in Stronsay and Sanday —in draining and improving their ground, and we have done that in some cases by getting them to do the half of the work; for example, the proprietor opens the drains, and the tenant fills them; and in other cases, where the ground is shallow, we provide them in addition with tiles, and they do the filling in. Another thing we have done there, is that the proprietor paid the late tenant of Housebay when these lands at Housebay were being improved, for ploughing up their ground to them. Their own horses were weak, and the horses of the larger farm were much stronger for ploughing up the rough ground, and they got assistance in that way to improve the land for themselves. I may mention that the quality of the land at Housebay is very superior; except in the island of South Ronaldshay, there is no better land in Orkney. There is a vein of red clay which touches Orkney, and which runs into Forfarshire and East Lothian, and forms the richest soil in the kingdom. If the land had been in East Lothian, it would have been worth £5 or £6 an acre; but they don't pay anything like that, and I am glad they derive benefit from it. I am always willing to encourage the smaller tenants, more especially, and I very frequently get it thrown up to me that I am kinder to the smaller tenants and crofters than to the big ones. That was said to me by one of the largest tenants on Mr Traill's estates in Orkney on my way north a few days ago. Then there is another grievance which I may explain in regard to working for larger farmers. Some years ago all these cottars at Housebay were cottars holding directly from the tenant of the farm. At the end of the last lease the tenants requested me to take them out of the hands of the tenant, and allow them to come directly under the proprietor. I consented to do that, because I believed it would be for their benefit; and one principal reason of that was that the proprietor would spend and actually did spend more money than any tenant would do in improving their lands and houses, and making them more comfortable than they had been hitherto. The obligation with regard to the working is simply this, the tenant of the farm there, who holds a farm of over 1200 acres of land, said to me, 'If you take these cottars from us, I cannot carry on this farm, and cannot take a new lease unless you make some arrangement whereby I can have the benefit of their work and labour in the farm. The arrangement I made was as simple and easy for them in the circumstances as it was possible to make; and that arrangement was this, —that these tenants were bound to give labour, that is to supply a woman in the spring season of the year when the crops were being laid down, and at the thinning of the turnips, and during harvest—that they were bound to supply a hand—and that the tenant of the large farm was bound to pay them the current wages of the district. I thought that was the fairest arrangement I could make in the circumstances. At the time these crofters expressed themselves as quite satisfied with the arrangement, knowing, as I believe they do know, that unless some arrangement of that kind is made, the large tenant would not be able to hold his farm or to work it properly. That is the position of matters.
23269. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How do you settle the current rate of wages?
—I leave that as a matter of arrangement between the large tenants and the crofters; but, as I said, the crofters are quite entitled to get as high wages as any other person in the island.
23270. Have they ever complained that they did not get as high wages as were current?
—They have, and I have spoken to the tenant about i t; not so much to the present tenant as to the former tenant, his late father. The wages have been increased.
23271. What are the wages for labour?
—I think 2s. a day and 2s. 6d. for drainers.
23272. Are you aware if that is the current rate of wages in Orkney?
—I have been making inquiries, and I believe that is the current wages in this island as well as in Stronsay.
23273. Where there is no forced labour—where it is optional?
—Yes. I understand 2s. 6d. is current wages in Caithness too.
23274. There is a difference between 2s. 6d. and 2s.?
—Yes, but 2s 6d. is the sum for a skilled workman.
23275. Are they compelled to keep a woman in their house to supplya woman's labour, if there is none in the family?
—My understanding of that arrangement was this, that it was generally a member of their own family they did supply, but any girl would be taken to help in farm work. But I have known in one or two instances of a man whose family was grown up and left, who has been obliged to supply a woman.
23276. You insist upon that?
—That is part of the arrangement.
23277. Professor Mackinnon
—I think you stated that the proprietor kept up this kelp manufacture entirely for the benefit of the tenants?
—I have said I requested him to do so. He had some thoughts of giving it up altogether, because prices were going down, and for all he got out of it, it was little worth.
23278. But two years ago did not the tenants get £255 and he himself £219?
—Yes, but that is subject to deduction of the burdens paid upon rent of the kelp shores.
23279. How much may these burdens be?
—Perhaps that year about £40.
23280. That is, the tenants got £255 for their labour, and he would get £130?
—Yes, for his rent of the kelp shores; but you have to bear in mind he advances the money before the kelp is sold, —the tenants are paid immediately after the kelp is made, at the Martinmas term, and it may be months after that before he gets the proceeds of the kelp.
23281. The difficulty is in seeing how the £255 paid to them and the £180 to the proprietor, makes it entirely a matter for their convenience to carry on the business?
—We don't consider £100 a very large sum but it is still a source of income; but I am much afraid the kelp, will go out altogether.
23282. In that case might it not be considered better to give them a higher rate if the £100 to the proprietor is nothing?
—We increased the prices some years ago, and gave them a higher price.
23283. The statement of the tenant was that his rent was raised three times within the last fifteen or twenty years —it is now double what it was?
—It will be double what it was.
23284. £5, £8, and £11, is what he states?
—The late Mr Purves, my predecessor, fixed the rents. Housebay is rather a peculiar case; it was lying in a state of nature almost when the present tenant's father entered upon it. He and Mr Macrae took a lease of it for twenty-five years, and the proprietor and they spent a large sum of money in improving it. After breaking the surface of the soil they came upon the superior red clav I alluded to, and they continued to improve the place so much that they set an example to the whole of Orkney, and gave an impetus to the improvement of the whole of the north islands on that occasion. And to provide work for the place he built a wall across the back of the farm, leaving out what was supposed to be sufficient allotments for fourteen of these crofters, and assisted them to build houses. That would be between thirty and forty years ago. Of course these old houses, had, at first, thatched roofs, which are now out of order, and we are in the course of assisting the tenants to build new and more comfortable houses with slated roofs.
23285. This man Maxwell stated that no improvement was made upon his croft excepting what he did himself?
—That is not the case; he got assistance to make drains and build his houses.
23286. You are not able to give the particulars in that case?
—No; if I had known I could have dons it. But as I have said, I have actually paid the late tenant of the farm of Housebay for the use of his horses in ploughing up the ground for all these small cottars, and assisting them in improving the land.
23287. When you state that the tenant is not able to hold his farm except under these conditions, you mean he is not able to pay such a high rent to the proprietor?
—I mean that; and the father of the present tenant told me he could not keep the farm at all if he did not get the labour. He could not otherwise get the labour to work it. It is an arable farm.
23288. Could he not import labour?
—He could not, unless a lot of Irishmen.
23289. That is to say, he would have to pay less rent?
—Much less rent. I don't believe he could pay half the rent if he had to import the labour.
23290. Of course he could import the labour exactly as the tenants are obliged to import it, if they haven't it themselves?
—No, because they have a certain portion of labour; it is only in one or two cases that they have to
23291. In the case of the delegate who was heard here, and who hadn't the labour, it would be quite as easy for the farmer to procure it as for the delegate?
—He could go to another estate. But supposing he lost the whole of them he could not get the whole of them in the island; that was the statement made to me when that arrangement was entered into.
23292. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Were these tenants imported by Mr Macrae?
—No, most of them are natives; they went across from Sanday a year or two ago. Mr Macrae, thirty-five years ago, imported labour to make his drains and enclosures, and build his houses but the usual farm work was done by people belonging to the island.
23293. The same people who are there now?
—Or their predecessors.
23294. Professor Mackinnon.
—But I suppose he could import the one as well as the other?
—Not so well, because he only requires them at a certain time of the year, and he could not provide them with accommodation for all the year round. You could not get a hirer for a month or two from the mainland of Orkney or Sanday.
23295. But the tenant who has not the labour is obliged to bring it from somewhere?
—There is a small village in Stronsay where, I believe, they can get them; there are a number of people there, who earn their living during the herring fishing season; and in the spring season, before the herring fishing, these women are to be got.
23296. Are these not quite as accessible to the farmer as to the small tenants?
—Yes, but the difficulty is this, the large farmer told me he could not get the number. You may get a few, or one or two.
23297. It is a very great convenience to him?
—No doubt about that; and I enter into these feelings of the small tenants in this respect, that I emancipated them from the tenant, and took them to hold directly from the landlord.
23298. The Chairman.
—I understood you to say that when the profits of this kelp manufacture became very small, the landlord had it in contemplation to give up the manufacture of kelp altogether?
—He just spoke to me saying he might give it up altogether.
23299. But you kindly suggested to the landlord, that if it were given up altogether they might not be able to pay their rents?
—Unless he provided some other source of employment for them.
23300. You state that if they had not this resource of the kelp they would not be able to pay their rents?
23301. And for the sake of the tenants, therefore, you continued to manufacture the kelp?
23302. But surely it was to benefit the landlord also?
—Oh, yes, it was.
23303. That they should be able to pay their rents?
—Certainly, it was looking to his interest as much as to that of the tenants
23304 It is the interest of both; it was not a pure act of benevolence?
—Not altogether; it was keeping the joint interests in view.
23305. I perfectly understand that, in most cases, the supply of female labour is not so great a hardship to the people, because some member of their own family performs the obligation and receives reasonable wages; but you yourself admit that it is a great hardship to a family to have to hire a stranger to live with them, whom they must feed, and supply to the farmer?
—The small crofters made a complaint to me, but you must keep in view that they got the houses and small crofts under this stipulation.
23306. Therefore the case of a family having a female amongst them, and that of a family having to hire a strange female who shall live in their house, is very different?
—Very different; from a monetary point of view.
23307. Is there any provision under which a family that has to hire a person might, perhaps, make a money payment instead of hiring a foreigner into their house?
—No, there is none.
23308. Do you think that some stipulation of that sort might not be arranged for?
—I should be very happy if it could be, to make the tenants more contented, and at the same time supply the labour required for the work of the large farm.
23309. On the whole, you say, you have emancipated the tenants from the thraldom of the farmer, and have placed them in direct relationship with the proprietor. Well, I doubt not that is a benefit —we have heard, in fact, the statement that it is a benefit. Don't you think you could perform a second act of emancipation, and free the people altogether from the labour obligations and commute it in some form or other for a money payment?
—I should be very much pleased indeed, and I have thought of that very frequently, but I cannot get the means. In fact, large farmers they cannot get labour themselves.
23310. When the farmer of whom you spoke said he could not take the farm unless he had the obligatory labour, did it occur to you to see whether any other farmer would take it without the obligatory labour?
—No, not at the time; because I make it a rule when the lease of a tenant holding a farm runs out, he shall not leave the property. I never like to advertise a farm if I can make a reasonable arrangement with the sitting tenant.
23311. You state that if the kelp manufacture were abandoned to the tenants they could not get as good a market as a single man; why should they not be able to club together, work the kelp manufacture, and pay the rent to the proprietor, and sell the kelp themselves?
—I think that is easily explained by any person acquainted with the manufacture of kelp. They would not manufacture it of the same quality. I have seen fresh kelp in Glasgow which I would be ashamed to see come from Sanday, in consequence of the mixture of stones. The same thing has been tried here and we have to send a man round to see that the kelp is properly made, and I am glad to say that the quality of the kelp manufactured here is now much appreciated.
23312. You state that the profits of the kelp are small, and to an opulent proprietor like Mr Traill, of little value, but that still there is a net profit of £119 a year. Now is that not almost altogether a source of rental unconnected with outlay —I mean there is no expenditure on buildings or repairs, to speak of?
—There are shores we have to keep up connected with it, and in former times we had to incur considerable expense with the kelp boats, until a pier was erected so that a ship could come alongside.
23313. Then there is outlay on the part of the proprietor?
23314. Is there a current outlay, or is it all incurred now?
—There is current outlay, and although the kelp shores were valued, I suppose the profit the proprietor takes would not be equal to the rent of the kelp shores.
23315. On Mr Traill's estate here, are there any small occupiers holding from the farmer, or do they hold everywhere from Mr Traill himself?
—In the island of Sanday they all hold from the proprietor directly, with the exception, I think, of two or three upon a farm in the immediate neighbourhood of this place; but those houses were left to the tenant for the accommodation of his farm servants. I understand, however, he has let them to some of his bowmen, and given them a little land and a small wage for working on the farm.
23316. And in the other islands where Mr Traill has property, how are they placed?
—They all hold directly from himself. I may mention with regard to these three small cottars or bowmen on this farm, that the lease is out at Martinmas first, and they have applied now to hold directly from the proprietor himself.
23317. Since you have been connected, with the property has there been any consolidation of small holders and the formation of large farms?
—Very little since my connection with the property; all that was done during the management of the late Mr Purves,
23318. About how long ago?
—Fully forty years ago; at least more than thirty years ago.
23319. Is the term bowmen peculiar to the county?
—One of the best antiquaries in the island will explain that —Mr Denison. He says 'bow' is the old Norse name for the principal farm of a township, and the ’ bowmen' were men or servants living or working upon the 'bow.'
23320. What is the employment at this moment of bowmen? Are they employed merely as hinds or farm servants?
—Merely farm servants in farm towns. Another derivation, some people say, is that farm servants used to be paid in kind with so many bolls of meal, and that it was from bollmen the people drew the term; but I believe the true derivation is from bow man, or the principal man on a farm.
23321. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Does it apply to all men and lads or to a man with a family?
—A man of family who works a pair of horses.
23322. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You stated that forty years ago, in the time of the late Mr Purves there was a good deal of consolidation of small holdings?
—Yes, the property at that time was not properly divided and little or no improvements were made upon it. The properties were then divided into small farms and a better class of houses built, and a considerable amount of draiuage made at a large expenditure of money.
23323. Was there a good deal of that all over Orkney—of consolidation of farms?
—I believe there was.
23324. I suppose you are aware that the descendants of the people whose farms were then taken away, and who may now be in foreign lands, did not look with favour upon that?
—They certainly did not at that time.
23325. You now tell us that these large farmers state to you that, unless they had this labour which you may call forced labour, they would not be able to carry on the farm?
—So they have told me.
23326. Then, in point of fact, this new system of large farms, which is of comparatively recent growth, requires to be kept up by the forced labour of the small people whose predecessors were removed from the lands; is that so?
—Well, to a certain extent it is. But on the large farms with which I am connected these small people were not. For instance the farm of Housebay was occupied by one or two tenants.
23327. Is it any wonder, under the circumstances, that these people would consider it a very great hardship —in the first place they do not approve of the farms; and, in the second place, that they are obliged to prop them up?
—No, I don't wonder at it.
23328. You have stated yourself, and I am personally aware of the matter, so far, that you were always a friend to the smaller tenants—you stated that the rents had been fixed some years ago, upon Mr Trail's estate by the late Mr M'Bey of Elgin?
—He made a valuation, but did not fix the rents.
23329. And that the rents were less then, than fixed by Mr M'Bey?
23330. Why was Mr M'Bey called in at all?
—That is a personal matter.
23331. Was it because you did not like to do it yourself?
—No; Mr Trail had some thoughts of selling his estates, and his agents in Edinburgh thought it would be better that a neutral person should make a valuation of the estates, and fix the rents which should be paid, rather than that his own employees should do it.
23332. Was Mr M'Bey informed what the object of his valuation was to be for the purpose of getting a good price out of the estate?
—I was told that Mr Traill had the intention of selling, or at least thoughts of selling it.
23333. I presume the tenants were not consulted about this valuation?
—Of course not.
23334. Was it not a distinct object to get the largest possible price that could be got in the market?
—Of course, Mr Traill would expect that would be done.
23335. Is it not the case very frequently that a person in your position, however good-willed towards his tenants, does not like himself to go and make a general rise of rents, but gets somebody from a distance to do it?
—Well, so far as I am concerned I always object to it as far as I can; I don't look with favour upon it.
23336. Are you not aware from your own experience and otherwise, here, that it is a common thing for a person from a distance, particularly a land surveyor, to be taken and arbitrarily, of his own will as it were, to fix the rents of the tenants for the future —to be asked by the proprietor to do so?
—Yes, it is the only case I know when Mr M'Bey was asked to come.
23337. I am not speaking of anything you yourself were connected with; but I appeal to your own experience as a lawyer. Is it not a common thing to bring a man from a distance to raise the rents?
—It has never been done on any estate I am connected with, except one in Caithness —the estate of the Scotscalder —a good many years ago.
23338. Do you know it is a practice in other estates?
—One or two proprietors in the north of Scotland have done it, but it is not a general rule.
23339. Factors are so hard that they do it themselves?
—A reasonable factor could arrange a new rent under lease.
23340. You have mentioned the name of Mr Purves as the factor under whom the consolidation of the farms took place; is he living?
—He is dead.
23341. Has he left any descendants?
23342. Is one of them a Mr Thomas Purves, very well known?
23343. Resident in Caithness?
—No, in Sutherland just now. He has a farm in Sutherland and another in Caithness.
23344. You stated that the proprietor, when the produce of kelp began to get low had some thoughts of giving it up. Had he no notion of that so long as the prices were high 1 Did he speak to you about it then?
—I suppose you are aware of the fact that the present proprietor only came into possession of the estate a few years ago. In former times, the price of kelp was very high and large amounts of money were to be made out of it. Of late years it has been falling off considerably.
23345. Did it never occur to you that it would be wise to leave the matter in the hands of the tenants themselves, and that the proprietor should get a lordship for every ton?
—No, I don't think so, I had quite an opposite view, from the fact that I believe the quality of the kelp would deteriorate.
23346. But, don't you think that would cure itself —that if the small tenants found they were preparing an inferior article which did not bring a high price, or no price whatever, they would find it necessary to turn it out in the way they do now?
—I believe that argument would have no effect at all from the simple reason that there is no competition for the purchase. There is only one man who will buy Orkney kelp and that is Mr Fairlie, and if he got it in bad condition he would not take it I think it is the interest of the people to keep up the quality.
23347. You stated that these big farmers say they cannot go on unless they get this forced labour, and that they must otherwise leave the place altogether. Would it really do any great harm if they did go?
—It would do this harm that the proprietor would not get the rents.
23348. But we heard a delegate say that his rent, in proportion, was higher than that of the big farmers; is that correct?
—In some cases that is correct, but not in every case. In some cases the big farmer pays the higher rent, but I know other cases where it is the reverse. I have made a calculation of that.
23349. What estates are you referring to just now—the county of Caithess or Orkney?
—Orkney; but the same remark applies to Caithness.
23350. Are you not aware there is a great demand for land on the part of the people and small crofters generally?
—I know there is, but whenever there is a farm vacant there is a large amount of competition—for every farm large or small.
23351. You mean there is a competition for farms as long as they have labour?
—The thing does not apply to farms in Caithness, only to one or two farms in Orkney, where they have not the same population to fall back upon for labour.
23352. Are you satisfied yourself with the present state of matters with regard to this forced labour? If you saw your way to do away with it, wouldn't you do away with it?
—I would be glad to do away with it if it could be supplied by any other means.
23353. Would you say that, take it north and south, the small farmer pays as much in proportion as the big one?
—That is a question I can hardly answer. In some cases the small farmer does pay a larger rent, but in
other cases he does not. This may be explained —for this reason that the large farms generally have a pretty large amount of hill ground and rough pasture, which is not so valuable as the arable ground, and taking the average the rent is less. But for the arable ground, I believe it is about equal, or as nearly so as possible.
23351. Are there many sheep in Sanday?
—No; Sanday is not an island adapted for sheep. Stronsay is, and on Housebay there are a good many.
23355. Do you think the rents upon Mr Traill's estate are moderate?
23356. Taking it all in all the crofts are moderately rented?
—I believe they are; in fact I have a great objection to charge one shilling more than a man is able to pay, or than the land is worth.
23357. Do you find people troublesome in making applications for this and that?
—No, I find as a rule that the Orkney tenants, once we got an arrangement completed with them and a lease entered into, give us no further trouble.
23358. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—There was another point raised by the tenants, that when they were settled upon new lands, and with the promise of valuations for improvements at the end of the lease, you had a system of giving them a new lease, and doing away with their right of meliorations?
—That has not been the practice since I had the management. There was something of the kind in former years, and perhaps I may explain how it occurred. When the improvements first began to be made there was a certain number of acres of land allotted, and the tenants either built a house or houses themselves upon the place, or they were assisted by the landlord. The rent was purely nominal —perhaps 2s. 6d. or 5s. for a few acres of land, at the end of a fourteen year's lease —that was the duration of lease in former times —an arrangement was made by which the rent was increased to £1 and 30s., and in some cases the meliorations were sunk; but I have been making it a rule to buy up the meliorations of the tenants—which comes very heavy upon the landlord; I have been doing it by degrees, and then the property becomes the landlord's.
23359. Then you charge the full rent?
—Then we charge a fair rent. There is a case where the lease is out at Martinmas, and £100 was expended by the tenant on buildings; when he got his last lease nineteen years ago he got the farm for less rent, but I have now arranged to pay him that £400, and we will get the full fair rent.
23360. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh,
—From the same person?
—From the same family.