Sanday, Orkney, 20 July 1883 - John Hay

JOHN HAY, Crofter, Cross (51)—examined.

23361. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How are you employed?
—I was employed by some of the big farmers chiefly as a servant.

23362. Were you appointed a delegate to appear here?

23363. By whom?
—By the crofters and cottars.

23364. Of what district?
—I was first elected by the south end and then approved of by the whole.

23365. Where was the meeting held!
—At Mr Peter Muir's, the first one, in the room belonging to the central schooL

23366. You heard what Mr Muir said to-day?

23367. Have you a paper?

23368. Have you a statement to make?
—Yes. The chief grievance I can gather from the whole of these meetings, is that we have too little land and that what there is of it is too poor; and that we want fixity of tenure, and compensation. There is also a grievance about the sea-weed which is used as manure for the land, and another about the kelp. The first I mentioned was that we have too little land. I suppose a crofter to have, say, 4 or 6 acres of good land. Well, the disadvantages which the crofter feels, is that he requires to buy a horse and cart, a plough, and harrow, and several other implements, before he can cultivate even these 4 or 6 acres. He has that horse to get; and then the croft does not supply one-half or one-third the work for which he has the material. One horse cannot plough, and, consequently he has to join with another crofter having about his own dimensions of the farm, and the consequence is that it is only every alternate day he can get in the labouring season to go on with his own work. He is idle when his neighbour is at work, unless he can get a job from a big farmer or from some one else. This is very well while he is young and strong; then he may perhaps find a job, but not when he gets old upon this small croft, and when his family are all grown up and away —they go one by one, and the last one has to go because there is nothing for him to live by or to clothe him, perhaps not even so much bread as will be food enough, from so small a lot of land. The consequence is that the old man, as long as he is able must labour away at his small croft, and when he is entirely failed he must give it up to the proprietor, and he has no chance now except, indeed, he calls upon the Parochial Board for relief; whereas, had he a few acres more, he could have retained a son, and perhaps a daughter along with him had there been anything for food and clothes for them. He applies to the Parochial Board, and they send him to the poorhouse and he gets board for himself and his wife. In this way he is a burden upon the parish, but if he had only a little more land his son and daughter might keep the thing going, and the public at large, and the man himself, would be much better. That is all I shall say about the man who has a small croft of good land. But there are other crofters who have poor land. That mainly consists of heath, reclaimed and ploughed and cultivated. Well, even then it yields very little. There is some of it lying bare at this day. Now the quantity of grain obtained from that is so very little, that, although the rent is not high, it can never yield very much. I have seen some of that land which has been cultivated now for twenty years, and I don't believe it is any better than when the first crop came off it; in some cases it is worse. Then another kind of poor land is that adjoining these shores, where the cliffs are high and where the waves break over these cliffs and the waves saturate the ground when it is just about to blossom, and in that ground there is never any grain; nothing for meal nor anything, —and I have even seen it so saturated that is was of no use even for fodder for animals. Another kind of poor land is the sandy land. There are several crofts of that kind which yield fairish crops, but the grain is not heavy. But, although it beats heath in grain crops, they have I believe, a greater disadvantage, because those who occupy the sand can raise neither cattle nor sheep to be any help to them, for if they attempt to keep any beyond a few months they die on their hands. I spoke also of fixity of tenure. I have seen what I should call ravages committed amongst the crofters and cottars in that matter. I have seen just wholesale evictions, whereby the whole district was depopulated to make way for a large farm. Of these men there remains not one now, with the single exception of an old man who occupies a house on the farm of Howe; he and his sister are all who remain out of 12 or 14 cottars holding from the principal farmer. When the principal farmer left, and a new farmer came, that was the time when this wholesale eviction took place. That was the largest eviction I have ever witnessed, but now and again I have seen evictions. I have seen them often; I have seen them in the south end. I remember a man called Richard Peace was evicted for some dispute —there are men here who can explain why he was summoned to remove; the information could be got, but I think it was some dispute about sea-weed or kelp.

23369. When did that large eviction take place?
—Somewhere between twenty and thirty years ago, maybe nearer thirty; but the case of Richard Peace is more recent. There was an eviction in Burness, where three families were evicted apparently for no public cause, at any rate. But I will give an illustration of that, as I am personally acquainted with it. I rented a small croft from Colonel Balfour, or at least, from his factor, I had been three years there and the barn was useless, and there never had been any stable. I asked the factor to put up a new barn and a stable, and he answered that if I required a new barn and a stable I could put them up for myself. But I forgot to say that I would do it myself if I got security. I was told about that, that if the security I already had did not please me, I could leave. Well I saw no chance for myself or family, so I built the barn the one year and I built the stable the next. By this time I had a pair of horses. I had occupied this barn and stable two years when I was summoned to remove at Martinmas. I had no place to go to; my old mother was alive, and I asked her liberty to get myself and family in the end of her small croft so that I could get time to look out some other way. I asked that at the factor, but was completely refused and sent out. One neighbour took one horse in beside his own and another took my other horse, and there was an old hole of a byre which contained my cow and calf. Now my fodder got done at the end of the year, and I had nothing to give my horse. I sold the youngest one for £4, 10s., and the man who bought him —I believe he is here just now —kept him a very short time until he was offered £40 for him. Now these were losses I sustained from being summoned to remove.

23370. Why were you summoned to remove?
—There was no reason; I was not due them a farthing. I was not having any row with a neighbour; but simply, I believe, because my old mother had a small croft alongside; and I suppose they thought, because she had that, that I was getting a byre and horses with a view to assist her as well as doing my own work

23371. How was that a reason for removing you?
—I don't know that. I cannot answer that question further than that it was thought that that
was the reason.

23372. To whom was the land given?
—To a Robert Cursitor.

23373. At the same rent?
—At the same rent. About the sea-weed; the large farmers generally claim most of it, and if the small crofter requires any he won't be allowed; or if the large fanner has a ton, he will perhaps sell it to the small crofter, and I believe that is only to those on the same estate. But since the kelp has been discussed I don't think I need delay you about it. But there are some things I may be allowed to mention. A man had not stored his kelp, and the consequence was that when he went into the market he got 10s. less for it because it had not been stored—that was the man who made it. Well, there was no store supplied by the proprietor, yet because of not storing he lost 10s. a ton. I think that is the most of what I have to say.

23374. With regard to your removal, you said it was because your mother had a small croft?
—Yes, that was pretty freely discussed.

23375. Was she paying her rent, or were you paying it for her?
—She was paying it

23376. Had she or any of your people applied for parochial relief?
— She was in receipt of parochial relief for an imbecile sister, she had none for herself.

23377. The chief thing of which you complain is that you have too little land?
—Yes, of a good kind at least, of the arable.

23378. What you want is that your croft should be extended in size?
—Yes, if that were possible.

23379. Is there land that can be given to you within easy reach of your present habitations?
—There is plenty of land in the parish. There is a farm which, I believe is some 1200 or 1400 acres, and the one next that is three or four farms thrown together, and I could not say how many acres it might contain—perhaps 500 to 800. And the next would be perhaps 500, and another 500 or 600 acres. These are only approximate figures. The last mentioned farm is Howe on which the wholesale eviction took place.

23380. You seem to think it a hardship to be obliged to keep a horse, because there is not sufficient land for the horse to work?

23381. But is it not better to have a horse to do the work, which saves a human being from work, than to have none?

23382. People in other places complain that they are not allowed to keep horses, but are obliged to do the work themselves that the horses should do?

23383. You spoke also of old people being left alone, and their families going away. Is that not a universal necessity for young people?
—-They are forced to do that when there is nothing for them to live upon.

23334. Can they get no work here at all?
—They might, if they remained, cultivate the croft.

23385. But can young men not get fishing to do?
—But what I meant was, there is a family say, take mine for instance, —I have several sons; one is in England, and another is in Kirkwall, and another was engaged at a mill, and I have just one little boy forbye. I am able to work as much as I have been doing yet; but the croft I have, and my wife alive, would not be able to support us unless I was to make some other shift for work Now it comes to be hard if a young man has to be hampered like this, and some of them feel it to be so. They think that, if they have got a little ground they would prefer to stick with the old folks if they could make a living.

23386. To live and work with their parents and succeed them at their death?
—Well, unmarried, and if the proprietor should agree about that there could be no objection.

23387. But suppose the young man insists on getting married, would he still live with his father?
—I suppose he might. I am only supposing it to be when the man is very old, and if the son gets married about that time, it is not likely the old man would fash them or be any hindrance to the young man. I would consider it much better for the old man to be beside his son, than in the poorhouse.

23388. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What warning had you before you were removed?
—About six weeks.

23389. Had you been requested to support your mother's imbecile sister?
—Not then; I was never requested to support her.

23390. That was not the cause of your removal?

23391. Who was Colonel Balfour's factor?
—-Mr Calder.

23392. Is he alive still?-
—No, he is dead.

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