Sanday, Orkney, 20 July 1883 - James Cooper

JAMES COOPER, Cottar and Fisherman, Rothiesholm, Stronsay (32), assisted by DAVID COOPER, Crofter and Fisherman, Stronsay (65)—examined.
(See Appendix A, LIV.)

22723. The Chairman.
—Do you pay rent to the landlord or the farmer?
—The farmer.

22724. To whom was the written statement entrusted?
—To both of us, and we did not write it out to be delivered to the Commissioners, but only as a  memorandum of the grievances, and I shall read it, or you may read it:
—We are delegates from the district of Rothiesholm, Stronsay, to represent the state of the cottars in that district, whose farms are sublet to them by the tenant of the main farm Rothiesholm. First, we wish to make known, that the farms we occupy have been cultivated by us, and our ancestors, except two; from ground not arable, most of it hill in its natural state, which for the first three years could not pay for its cultivation by its produce : and some part of what we had cultivated has been taken and put into the main farm, and hill given in exchange, but no payment for cultivating the ground taken from us or rent diminished, because we got hill in exchange. At present our farms differ in size between five and eleven acres or thereby, of what we call arable, and from six to twelve or thereby of hill. Putting them all collectively, we pay about 11s. per acre. Our houses we have to build at our own expense, and if taken from us we have no compensation, so this gives us little encouragement for improvement. The next we would make known is that which is felt to be slavery in the district. Most of us during winter and spring, however necessary our work at home, or if we should have an opportunity of earning five or teu shillings elsewhere, must go when called to work on the main farm for 2s. for ten hours of ordinary work, and 2s. 6d., for draining. Also we have to make one ton of kelp, and as much more as we can, and sell it to the tenant of the main farm for £ 2 , 5s. per ton, or whatever price kelp is in the markets. During summer and autumn, except about five weeks in harvest, we feed and lodge a woman to work on the main farm. Her wages is Is. for ten hours work. During the weeks referred to in harvest we have to send a man along with the woman to work on the main farm; both have their cost for each day they work, and whether their work should be five weeks or more, the man's wages is £ 2 , 10s. and the woman's £ 1 , 10s. Also, we require a cook to prepare and carry their food to the harvest fields; her we have to feed and pay. Our desire is that in the future we may be free from bondage, and have the ground we have cultivated let to us by a proprietor and not sublet by a tenant.

22725. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How many families are there on the island?
—There are eleveu families in that case, but we have two more though we have not their signatures. We only represent one district, but there is another report from another district lent, it is not the same as ours, for which reason we could not put it collectively.

22726. Are the eleven families all in the same condition as that you have described?
—Yes. There may be a little difference, but that is the general substance of their condition.

22727. What extent of land has each of them?
—From five to eleven acres of arable land, and some six to twelve acres of hill uncultivated; and, I may remark, that in my senior's day, about fourteen of the little farmers were put into one farm, and many more before his day. The tenants have, most of them had to sesk a home where they best could.

22728. How long ago is it since that time?
—The last case was about five years ago, I think. It is about forty years ago since it commenced.

22/29. How many people were removed then—how many families?
—The last time eighteen, I think, were removed out of their houses, and some were disinherited altogether, and some were obliged to take up the subject to the tenant of the main farm.

22730. Had many of them to leave the island altogether?
—A few of them did. Many were old men who had spent their strength in cultivating the hill ground. They might have got a bit of hill ground, but they could not cultivate it. And if it were cultivated it might have been taken into the main farm again.

22731. It is a sheep farm?
—Yes, partly; it is about 1500 acres now.

22732. Do you know the rent of it?
—Something over £400, but I would not say distinctly.

22733. What rent do you pay?
—£5, 10s. for my own place.

22734. Is that about the average?
—It is according to the size. The average rent, taking the whole, is about 11 s. per acre, and the arable
ground is about £ 1.

22735. What stock are you able to keep?
—The general stock is about two or three cows—some a horse and a cow; and some perhaps have a
heifer in addition.

22736. Are you allowed to keep sheep?
—Yes, if we could support them ourselves. The time was when we were at liberty to go through the hill, but now there is more exemption from that.

22737. Before the main farm was let, was the hill common among the crofters?
—Yes, among the crofters in that district at least.

22738. Was it not so through the whole island?
—Not in my day.
[David Cooper] It was all common in my day. I remember the flocks being on it from different districts. It was all of course counted common.

22739. And were they allowed to keep as many cattle and sheep as they liked?
—Yes, and no man to hinder them.

22740. Are you a fisherman?
—Yes, our farms are too small to support and us, without our devoting part of our time to the fishing.

22741. I suppose the corn and potatoes you raise are not sufficient to support you?

22742. How long do they last?
—Some for a year, and some for only eight or ten months, according to the size of the farm. And many of us have to maintain a woman. I mean we have to buy her food and also to support her family.

22743. When was that regulation established?
—About five years ago.

22744. Who did it?
—The present tenant; we are not in connection with the proprietor at all; we hold altogether from the present tenant.

22745. Does he live there himself?

22746. What kind of fishing are you engaged in?
—The cod fishing during the winter, and the cod, herring, and lobster fishing in the summer.

22747. Mr Cameron.
—You say you are almost all engaged in the fishing?
—[James Cooper] Almost; that is, we attend so far as we can to our ground; we cultivate our ground in the first place.

22748. Is it the wish of the people whom you represent that they should have sufficiently large farms to enable them to dispense with the fishing?
—Yes, I believe that is the wish of all we represent.

22749. So that if your wishes were carried out, there would be no fishermen?
—Just so.

22750. Is there any complaint of overcrowding —that the people are too crowded together in your district?
—Not too crowded, but we are always driven out to the hill. If we were not driven out there would be
plenty of room. The district is about 1000 acres or thereby, and there is only about thirteen of these cottars on the main farm.

22751. In point of fact, you have a farm on which you can keep a cow, a horse, and a heifer, on an average?

22752. You occupy yourself in fishing, and you earn money by labouring for the farmer at the rate of 2s. per day for some kinds of work, and 2s. 6d. for other kinds?

22753. Do you think that it is a hard case?
—Yes, I think it is. If we had opportunity of going to the fishing, and making 10s., if the farmer requires us We must go to the farm if called upon, and get 2s. And when we want to go to the farm we are not required.

22754. What do you suggest—and what would you like to see done?
—We would like to have our liberty, to hold from the proprietor and not under a sub-let—not to be in bondage; and we would like more ground—as much as could keep a family without our having to spend part of our time at the fishing.

22755. In that case would you work for the farmer?
—No, we want to hold from the proprietor as the farmer does.

22756. And supposing you were free, and held from the proprietor, would you work for the farmer?
—Yes, we would be willing to work for him if he required us to work for pay.

22757. And what wages would you expect—higher than you get now?
—Just the current wages.

22758. Would it be higher than you get now?
—Yes; it is not always current wages for a man's work to get 2s.

22759. Current wages are higher?
—Yes, in general, they are.

22760. You think that the arrangements can be made satisfactorily between the farmer and yourselves, so that the farmer would not be under the necessity of importing labourers from outside the island?
—Yes, I believe that.

22761. Do you agree in that?
—[David Cooper]. Yes.

22762. You think farmer and crofter would make such a satisfactory arrangement as regards labour, that the farmer would not be under the necessity of importing labour from other parts of the country?
—Yes, it would be no difficulty for him to get labourers for all his work out of the district.

22763. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the name of the proprietor of Stronsay?
—James Cooper: J. Heddle.

22764. What is the name of the farmer?
—James Twatt.

22765. For whom do you fish?
—We are quite at liberty in regard to the fishing; we can sell to any salesman we think fit. We have no connection with the proprietor or tenant in regard to the fishing.

22766. The tenant does not compel you to fish for him?

22767. Is there any curer or merchant in the island?
—Yes, but we are not bound to one more than to another.

22768. Are there more than one?
—Yes, there are two cod curers and different herring curers.

22769. And are they competing keenly, so that you may have a good market for the fish?
—Yes, and if not we can send them to Kirkwall.

22770. Is there only one main farm on the island?
—That is the main farm Rothiesholm, but there are different main farms in other districts.

22771. You are speaking of big farms in your own district?

22772. Has it been there always—that big farm, or is it comparatively recent?
—It has always been there from the first I can remember; but many little farms have been put into the big farm.

22773. But there was always a big farm?

22774. Although it has been added to?

22775. You stated in answer to a question, asking what you wanted done for you, that you wanted to be free?
—Free from the bondage of the tenant, so that we should not be obliged to go at his pleasure.

22776. Do you know the rules in other parts of the country that proprietors don't allow such a tiling as sub-letting?
—So far as I am aware there is no sub-letting in our island, except in this district.

22777. Is it not a general rule in Scotland, that the proprietor does not allow anybody to sublet?
—Yes, I understand it is a general rule.

22778. And you want that rule applied to your part of the island?

22779. You say you are rather limited in the extent of ground you have, and would like it enlarged; are you willing to pay a fair rent for what you might get?
—Yes, taxes accordingly.

22780. And I suppose there is plenty of land on this main farm which would suit the thirteen families you represent?
—Yes, plenty.

22781. You say the people pay about 11s. an acre on an average?
—Yes, hill and arable.

22782. Does the big farmer pay more than that on an average?
—No, he pays less.

22783. It would really be for the interest of the proprietor, as well as yourselves, that you should get this additional land?
—Yes, I believe it would give more money for his ground if we all paid it to himself.

22784. Are the people as well off now as they were in your younger days, when they had the free run of the hills?
—[David Cooper] No.

22785. In your young days were the people pretty well off?
—Yes, pretty well off; they had the hill before them, and they had their sheep and cattle, and they were paying nothing. Perhaps in some places they paid Is. or only 6d. a head.

22786. At that time—the good old times—were you paying your rent direct to the landlord?
—No, to the tenant.

22787. And it was not a burden upon you then?
—No. m and

22788. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How many day's labour does it take you to make a ton of kelp?
— [James Cooper]. According to the circumstances, the weather, and the place we get the sea-weed in.

22789. Can you make 2s. a day at £2, 5s. a ton?
—-I can scarcely calculate on that, because at some of the stands we have to carry it away twice, and then cart it out. We cannot spread it out where it comes. I cannot say how long it takes to make a ton.

22790. What is the price of it in the market just now?
—I think not often below £7, so far as I am aware. At least it is as high as that often, I know.

22791. I thought £2, 10s. was about the price?
—It is more than that.

22792. It is from drift ware you make the kelp?
—Yes, but it is best kelp, not tang kelp.

22793. You say you are obliged to keep a woman servant; —that is one of your own family you are obliged to supply at Is. a day?
—If we have one, and if we have not one of our own we have to get another, and feed and lodge her; and all she gets is Is. a day. We get no benefit by her in the least.

22794. Are the current wages in Orkney Is. a day, besides food, for women?
—I think about Kirkwall, it is more than Is.

22795. And their food besides?
—No, they have to provide their own food.

22796. Does this woman not pay you for her food?

22797. The woman gets Is. a day from the farmer and food from you?

22798. And that is the common wage in your country?
—Yes; and it takes about £3, 10s. to feed her, and there is no compensation for her: it is a gift.

22799. Does the farmer keep any hired servants?
—A few men servants.

22800. How many does he keep?
—About six generally.

22801. One for every pair of horses?
—Yes, and perhaps a cattle man, and perhaps an old man for other work,

22802. To these he pays regular wages?

22803. And to what extent does he ask you to work for him in the course of the year?
—We must be ready any day in the course of the six winter months, when called upon.

22804. In practice, how often does that occur?
—Sometimes it may occur frequently, and sometimes not for a while; but whenever he calls, we must be ready to go.

22805. In harvest time have you to go?
—Yes; man and woman.

22806. Exclusive of that time, are you called for labour twenty days in the year?
—Much more.

22807. The whole fourteen of you?
—Not all of us; all of us are not exactly under that bond. There are eight under that full bond. All have not to keep a woman, but almost all of us have to work ourselves.

22808. You cannot say how many days in the year you are called upon to work exclusive of the harvest labour?
—I cannot say. My fellow delegate might be called upon more than me. Some may be called of oftener and some fewer, when the farmer thinks proper.

22809. When are you paid?
—When we are settling the rent at Hallowmas term—about the 11th November.

22810. Then you pay your rent?

22811. Do you generally have to get money from the farmer, or have and you to pay?
—I never get money; I have always to pay.

22812. What is your rent?
—-£5, 10s.

22813. And your wages never come up to that1?
—No, never.

22814. The Chairman.
—You stated' you wished to hold that land direct from the proprietor, and to have nothing to do with the proprietor?

22815. Supposing your position were altered, and that you were placed in direct connection with the proprietor, would you farm the manufacture of kelp from the proprietor—would you take it from the proprietor and work it for him?
—Yes, we would be willing to do it, only we would want the current prices for it.

22816. But the manufacture of kelp would not cease on that account?
—Oh no, we would not wish it to cease.

22817. You have heard and understood what he has said, and you agree with it generally?
—[David Cooper]. Yes.

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