Sanday, Orkney, 20 July 1883 - John Maxwell

JOHN MAXWELL, Crofter, Housebay, Stronsay, assisted by DAVID SMITH, Housebay, Stronsay (42)—examined.

23021. The Chairman.
—Make your statement.
—First, as to living.We are bound to furnish a woman hirer for each croft, to work on the farm of Housebay for six months in the year. The wages each hirer earns is paid to herself, while we have to find her in board and lodgings during that time, with the exception of about five weeks in harvest when they are furnished with their "cost" by the tenant of Housebay. Again, we are each bound to furnish the tenant of Housebay with a man labourer during the harvest weeks, when he receives his wages and "cost" from Housebay, while we are bound to find him in lodgings. Again, we are each bound in addition to the above to find during the harvest weeks a third hirer, to cook food and carry the same to the other two to the field, as the distance from the crofts is such as not to admit of time for the other two to come home to their meals, the time allowed for each meal being one hour, the labourers thus having to take their meals in the open air. This third hirer we have both to pay lodgings and board at our own cost. The Commissioners will thus see how hard this system of hiring must press on us in our small crofts, when we with a few exceptions have to buy meal for ourselves, families, and the Housebay hirers for most of six months in the year. Second, as to rent: The crofters are well and - all highly rented, in fact the rents have been several times raised, and we have been told by the factors, that we either had to take them at the rents or leave them.

23022. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How many families are there in your place?
—About thirteen.

23023. Are your crofts generally of the same size?
—No, there is a difference in them; but most of them are about eight acres.

23024. Of arable land?
—No, altogether; very little arable land in the summer.

23025. How many acres have you yourself?
—It is said to be near about fifteen.

23026. How have you so much more than the rest?
—It just happens to be taken in out of the outside common, more taken in.

23027. How were you allowed to take in from the common?
—It was not I who did it, it was the proprietor.

23028.. Is there a common on which you are all allowed to pasture your cattle?
—There was, but there is not now, it was all taken in.

23029. When was it taken in?
—About twenty-three years ago, I suppose.

23030. Was it, before that, common to all the crofters?

23031. Were they allowed to put as many cattle upon it as they chose?
—There was no person to make objections then.

23032. Why was it taken from them at that time?
—The proprietors changed it among themselves.

23033. Was it joined to a sheep farm?

23034. Is there any sheep farm near you?
—No; unless what the tenants have on their own property.

23035. What rent do you pay?
—£11, forbye taxes, road money, and poor rates.

23036. What do the taxes come to?
—In through the second pound; I am not sure of the shillings.

23037. What cattle are you able to keep?
—I just keep one cow, a stirk, a calf, and a horse.

23038. Any sheep?
—One ewe, and her produce.

23039. How much of the fifteen acres is arable land?
—About five acres, I think.

23040. And what crops do you raise?
—Oats, bere, potatoes, and turnips.

23041. Are you able to raise sufficient food for your family and your cattle?
—Yes, almost, I think. The grass is very pinched, but the winter keep is better. A great part of it is hill pasture, and it grows very little grass.

23042. How is it you can keep only one cow?
—We cannot have grass for more.

23043. Have any of your neighbours more than one cow?
—Some of them have two, but the greater part only one.

23044. How many of you have horses?
—Every one has a horse a piece.

23045. Small ponies?

23046. Do you plough your land or dig it?
—We plough it. We join with our next neighbour and plough it.

23047. Have your neighbours any sheep?
—-Yes, most of us have one ewe.

23048. What kind do you keep?
—The big kind.

23049. Cheviot?

23050. Is it not the Leicester breed?
—Yes, I think so
—[David Smith]. Half breeds.

23051. Are there any fishermen amongst you at all?
—[Maxwell]. No, not in any of these crofts.

23052. Are you not near the sea?
—Yes, but we require to be at home well and to manage our crofts.

23053. Are you all able to live off your crofts without fishing?
—Scarcely, I suppose. My family is quite small now, and I put by with the bread I have; but everyone does not do that.

23054. Do you hold the land from the tenant for whom you are obliged to work?
—No, but these labourers work to the tenant.

23055. Then how can the tenant compel you to furnish the labourers to him? Is it the laird who obliges you to do that?

23056. It is part of your agreement with the laird?
—Yes, we are bound to work for the tenant of Houseby when required, and then hire women for six months.

23057. Do you consider it a grievance that the labourers have to take their meals in the open air?
—Yes, it is the usual custom.

23058. And do you complain of it?
—I cannot say much about it.

23059. Is it not the custom all over Scotland and England for outdoor labourers to take their food in the open air?
—Most of them do so at the harvest here.

23060. That is not what you complain of?

23061. It is having to carry food?
—Yes, the compelment to have a hirer when we cannot get them on terms. They get the wages for themselves, and we have nothing for keeping them in meat and lodgings.

23062. What does it cost you, as an individual, to supply the labourer who is specified in this paper, and to feed him?
—I never took that to a close account.

23063. What would you give to be freed from this burden —how much money?
—If we were freed from that, we would still be high enough rented.

23064. Would you rather than a couple of pounds be freed from this burden?
—It would be better.

23065. Do you all complain of your rents?
—I think the most of us have reason to do so.

23066. Is your rent one of the highest?
—Well, I reckon that myself.

23067. Is there any one who pays more rent than you?
—None but one on the property.

23068. What does he pay?
—£15, I think; but he has twenty-nine acres.

23069. And what is the smallest rent paid by anybody in your neighbourhood?
—I am not certain; maybe about £6.
—[David Smith]. I think, maybe, between £ 3 and £4—I am not altogether sure—with one or two

23070. You don't make kelp, do you?
—[Maxwell]. Yes.

23071. For whom do you make it?
—The proprietor.

23872. How are you paid?
—We have £2, 5s. per ton.

23073. What time does it take you to make a ton?
—It is altogether according to the weather; in dry weather we may make it in a short time, but in wet weather it may lie a month on the beach.

23074. What have you made this year?
—Very little. The weather was wet, and it wastes away, and does not come to anything in that case.

23075. Mr Cameron.
—It is stated in this paper that the rents have been raised several times?

23076. When were they last raised?
—Four years ago.

23077. Do you remember how long it was before that, when they were raised?
—Maybe six or seven years.

23078. What was the reason given for raising the rents at that time"!
—They thought we had too good a bargain.

23079. Were any advantages conferred upon the tenants at the time the rents were raised in any shape or form?

23080, You were exactly in the same position as before?
—The same position.

23081. By what amount were the rents raised each time?
—The first I paid was £5, the second £8, and lastly, £11, forbye all the rates, road money, and school money, and poor dues.

23082. Was your condition exactly the same, except that the rents were raised?

23083. You got no additional land and no house built?

23084. And nothing was done for you when the rent was raised?

23085. Is that the case with the other crofters?

23086. What do you sell off the croft each year?
—Very little; we generally keep a two-year-old.

23087. What do you get for the two-year-okl?
—Sometimes between £12 and £28—maybe £15.

23088. It is a shorthorn cow?

23089. What do you get for the produce of your ewe? do you keep the lamb until it is a year old and then sell it?

23090. What do you get for it?
—We generally sell the lambs when they are young, and we get £1 or 22s. for them.

23091. That is about all you sell off the croft?
—That is all.

23092. What do you do with the wool of the sheep?
—We keep that for the family.

23093. Have you ever compared your rents with the rents of crofters in the neighbouring property in Orkney?
—That differs very much.

23094. Do you think that you are high rented because you don't get enough out of your croft, or is it that you think you are high rented compared with the rent you paid sometime ago?
—Yes, the ground being dead, what arable ground we had was only about 5 acres, and the rest is just the hill taken off the common.

23095. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you taken in any land?
—[David Smith]. No.

23096. Did you take in any land?
—[Maxwell]. Yes.

23097. How much?
—When I came to that place first it was all lying—at least the greatest part of it—in a natural state, and I filled it in, and reclaimed it to the extent of about 6 acres.

23098. You increased the cultivated part by about 6 acres?

23099. What help did you get from the landlord for that?

23100. And your rent has been raised from £5 to £8, and then to £11?

23101. Did you ever get anything from the landlord?

23102. And the taxes are now much heavier than they were many years ago?
—They are much the same as they have been this good while past. The poor rate alters a little.

23103. But is not the school rate a new rate?

23104. What is that in the pound?
—There were none of these rates when I first took the place.

23105. The rates have not increased very much then?
—Yes, they have increased generally every year.

23106. How much do you pay besides £11?
—I pay 6d. in the pound for road money, Is. 2d. in the pound as poor rates, and I am not sure what the school rate is; and there are some small rates besides.

23107. You will be paying altogether about £13?
—Nearly, but not quite so much.

23108. Do you consider this rent which you have to pay in the form of labour a very invidious thing?
—I do.

23109. If you had to pay it at all would you prefer to pay it in money?
—I pay the greater part of it in money.

23110. But you would prefer to pay it to the landlord directly?
—I do pay it to the proprietor or his factor.

23111. I mean the money you have to pay for the servant for the big farm, would you not prefer to compound with the landlord?
—It would be far better.

23112. You don't like this burden at all?
—No, I don't.

23113. Do you agree with the other witnesses about the payment of this burden.
— [David Smith] I do.

23114. You have not taken in any land?

23115. Has your rent been increased in the same way as the other man's?

23116. What was it at first?
—£6, odds.

23117. And now?
—Now it is £7, 10s. of rent for the 9½ acres.

23118. That is the bare rent?
—It is forbye taxes and the bondage.

23119. And you get no additional laud and no allowance for improvements?

23120. For houses?
—The house was repaired last summer.

23121. By the landlord?

23122. How much would it cost him?
—I could not say that. I paid the mason work of it myself, and the landlord paid the rest; and I quarried, and carted the stuff.

23123. Have the rents of all the people you represent here to-day been raised in some way?

23124. But did any of them get any advantage in the way of increasing the extent of their ground?
—No, there are some of them who have been paid for draining.

23125. Did they ask any additional land?
—[Maxwell]. They would get more; but they are too close together, and there is no land that can be
given them. There is a boundary dyke between us and the farm.
—[David Smith]. There is plenty of land.

23126. Would you like to get the extent of your holdings increased?
—Well, 9½ acres can do very little for a family.

23127. Do you get your living out of it?

23128. It does not support you?
—Nothing like it.

23129. Are you a fisherman?

23130. Do you go away to labour?
—Yes, sometimes on the farm at Housebay and elsewhere, if I can get it.

23131. But it does not support your family this nine acres of a croft?

23132. Supposing you got more land, in some good place, would you be willing to take it and stock it?
—If I got a chance I would try it.

23133. Are there many of the people in the same position as yourself, and who would be of the same mind; that is, who would be willing to do their best if they got the chance '

23134. Can you sell anything off your farm, and if so, what?
—It may be a year's-old stot or sometimes a lamb.

23135. What would you get for the stot?
—£6 or £7.

23136. And you can do it every year?
—No, it does not happen often.

23137. Have you anything more to add yourself that has not been mentioned?
—I would like to get clear of bondage if that is possible; it is our chief malady—our grievance.

23138. Do you consider that an invidious form of paying money?
—Yes; we have nothing against the tenant of Housebay as a master; it is a bad well and regulation between us and the landlord.

23139. Is there any reason why that burden should be put upon you, can he not get labour?
—It is just the sara3 as other farms; no doubt of that.

23140. Have these large farmers got any cottars living upon the farms, who do nothing but work for the fanner; or do they prefer not to keep such people and come to you?
—They come to us; they just have their horsemen.

23141. They have no people except the regular servants?
—Yearly servants.

23142. And for what extra labour they want they come to you and the other crofters?

23143. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What do you consider the cost of keeping this woman whose labour you supply to the farm?
—It will cost us about £3, 10s. a year. I don't think we could do it for less.

23144. Your rent now is £7, 10s.?

23145. Would it be worth while to pay £ 2 or £ 4 more rent, and not be bound to keep the woman?
—It would be better indeed; but we pay too much forbye that.

23146. You are paying too much now; but of course part of the obligation is to keep this woman?

23147. Do you get anything for keeping this woman?
—No, and probably he might summon us out if we did not keep one.

23148. Then you always keep one?
—We always have to keep one.

23149. You always do keep one?

23150. And that costs you £3, 10s. a year besides your rent1?
—We keep her the whole six months of harvest, whether that is long or short.

23151. The Chairman.
—When you keep this woman to work for the farmer do you often give him a member of your own family, a daughter or sister, or do you hire somebody in?
—When we have not one of our own we have to hire another person.

23152. Do you generally have a daughter or sister?
—Not generally.
—[Maxwell]. It is a general thing, but some of us have not

23153. Mr Fraser Mackintosh.
—I suppose when there are any women in your family, they don't like going out to labour in that way?
—Not well.

23154. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Who is your laird?
—Mr Traill.

23155. Does he live in the island?

23156. Where?

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