CASE of ROBERT GEAR, of Foula Island, Shetland.
FOULA, SHETLAND, October 9, 1883.
Sin,—I now beg to remind you that when I appeared as a delegate before the Royal Commissioners at Foula on 18th July last, I asked their influence in protecting me from any annoyance to which I might be subjected by those in power in consequence of giving evidence. And now. as I justly anticipated, have been served with notice of eviction, withholding the name of the factor, Mr James Garriock, who is brother of the merchant, as you will see by the enclosed copy of defence to the Sheriff, which I take the liberty of sending for your perusal
Hoping that you will now use that influence, as I am in deep distress.—I have the honour to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. O. Fraser M'Intosh, Esq., M.P.
COPY OF APPEAL
Sir,—Having been served with citation, petition, and letter of eviction by Messrs Sivewright & Macgregor, law agents, Lerwick, dated 25th September, 1883, and served upon me by post, setting forth the proprietor, Master Scott of Melby, as desirous of my eviction (but who m I have reason to believe does not desire such), and Mrs Scott and Mr John Scott Smith, as his curators, therein designated as pursuers, against me.
I, as defender, having the right of appeal against said proceedings, do hereby humbly show—
1. That in my opinion I do not stand in the position of a tenant at will, as set forth in said proceedings, but was put in by the parish minister, and permanently appointed as the agent and representative of the Church of Scotland (in addition to being Society schoolmaster), and in which capacity I still remain, and occupying the same house and croft as my predecessors have done for the last thirty or forty years.
2. That I owe no rent to the estate of Melby, and dare any one to charge either myself or my family with anything that can be proved against us during eleven years residence in this island, in token of which I can produce unimpeachable testimonials, as also protest against present eviction from my place in Foula, signed by a large majority of the male inhabitants.
3. That I now enter protest and appeal against said proceedings as most cruel, unjust, and without precedent, which in effect seeks to deprive a poor , man in delicate health and his helpless family of all their means of support; turn them to the fields destitute in this far away isle of the ocean, where there is not another shelter to be had, and that in dead of winter; and to shut the door.
Can, I beg to ask with all deference, inoffensive people be subjected to such treatment under cover of the laws of Great Britain in the year 1883, for the crime of telling the truth before Royal Commission 18th July last? Hoping that you will excuse this liberty, as, believe me, nothing but the land urgency of the case and inability to attend Court, as cited, through ill-health, would have induced me now to address you in these terms, and which must be my only apology, I have the honour to be, Sir, yours respectfully,
Church of Scotland Catechist
To Charles Rampini, Esq.,
Advocate, Sheriff-Substitute of Shetland.
Dated at Foula, this first day of October, eighteen hundred and eightythree years.
P.S—Find enclosed Petition. R. G.
REAWICK, SHETLAND, January 5, 1884.
SIR,—I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 20th ult., and thank you for affording me the opportunity of explaining matters in reference to the would-be Foula martyr, R. Gear, whose misrepresentations, in conjunction with those of his friend Mr Sands, have so extensively appeared in the public prints, and caused, to say the least of it, much annoyance. This man (Robert Gear), formerly a sailor, succeeded in making the Rev. A. Nichol, E. C. minister of Walls, believe he was qualified to fill the situation of Society teacher/ then vacant in Foula, and accordingly was sent there about eleven years ago. He had not been there more than a year when some of his scholars were found to be ahead of their teacher, and they withdrew. The people became alarmed lest they should be saddled with an incompetent teacher, and hearing of the new Education Act, feared he might become a burden on the rates, and they wished to get rid of him. He was thereafter appointed reader,' with a salary of £20 from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and an allowance of £7 from The Royal Bounty. If I am not mistaken, he had a further allowance of £3 or more for some other office he was supposed to fill. His duties in return for this salary—of at least £27 per annum—consisted of reading occasionally an old sermon to about five people. Up to this time the Society teacher in Foula, in consideration of his holding that office, was allowed to occupy the house and farm of Mogle, at a nominal rent of two pounds per annum, while it was valued at about £5 , and indeed was considered the best croft in the island. I was appointed factor for Melby in 1875, and collected the rents (crop 1875 in Foula in 1876, when I found Gear due two years' rent, viz., crops 1873 and and 1874. Payment of this sum I obtained from Garriock & Co., in order to show a clean ' balance-sheet'. Gear being no longer teacher (or when he became no longer teacher), I doubted whether, as factor, I was warranted to allow him to occupy at the reduced rent, and feared lest some day I might have to account for the difference, more especially as the late landlord, Dr Scott of Melby, had more than once expressed in my hearing his dissatisfaction at a man like Gear being allowed to remain in the island. I told him he must in future pay a fair rent. Year after year found him apparently as unable as ever to meet a rise of rent, and it was with difficulty I obtained payment of the two pounds; but out of pity for his wife and children I let it pass.
During following years complaints were often lodged against him on account of not having his dykes properly built, causing annoyance thereby to his neighbours through sheep, & c , getting in and destroying their crops. He neglected his farm and office houses. Four or five years ago, when I could stand it no longer, I advertised his croft 'to let/ but on condition of better behaviour allowed him to remain. In the year 1881, I alloted a part of his farm to the teacher, and had both portions valued. Since then he has been charged a higher rent, more in accordance with its real value, but continued to neglect his farm, offices, &c. Last year he appeared before you as the people's champion, and after making erroneous and exaggerated statements appealed to you for protection, and wished to pose as a martyr, even telling some of the inhabitants he did not fear landlord, factor, or merchant, having the Royal Commissioners at his back—nay, even the British Government—and evidently fancied he could evade his lawful debts to his creditors and obligations to his landlord. This threat he fancied, no doubt, would prevent them from taking action ; or if they did, he would be a martyr, and obtain the sympathy and help of a credulous public throughout the kingdom. In either case he would have his revenge. His debt to the firm of Garriock & Co.—of which my brother (referred to by Gear) is now sole partner, and with which I am not connected—having steadily increased, in spite of all remonstrances and efforts to the contrary, until amounting to over £40, he was again last year politely requested to make payment or find security; but notwithstanding all my brother's forbearance, he received only ingratitude and abuse. Matters had now come to a crisis. Is a lazy, indolent man to be allowed to shirk his obligations ? It could no longer be permitted. My brother took steps for the recovery of the debt, or as much of it as he could get; and seeing that Gear would be left without farm-stock or means, he would no longer be a fit subject for a tenant, and it clearly became my duty to have him removed from the croft. This of itself, I considered, made my duty plain ; and believing it to be so, I determined to do it fearlessly, and for a time endure the obloquy I know would fall on me through the misrepresentation of Gear and his friend Mr Sands.
The usual term for removing tenants who hold crofts, in Shetland, is Martinmas (12th Nov.) I foresaw that in the event of Gear's being turned out, he could not well leave the island until spring or summer, and therefore he was to be allowed to remain in the house until 12th May, although freed from the farm; meantime, the legal form of warning had to be served. In the interval, I heard that Gear had got some Foula people to sign a paper protesting against his eviction, whereupon I prepared another document, and instructed the officer to give the people the option of signing it also, or if they did not, I would publish both, and thereby expose their inconsistency—first, complaining to me as factor, and then, when they saw he was to be removed, appearing to befriend him, and openly throw all the blame on me, and remonstrate against the very thing they formerly desired ! My instructions to the sheriff officer were these :—' I wish you to explain to the Foula people and Mr R. Gear, that, provided the following conditions are complied with, viz., the accompanying paper guaranteeing certain requirements on the part of the landlord, are signed by responsible tenants to the number of twelve, he (Mr Gear) shall be allowed to remain where he is at present. The following are the terms of the paper referred to;—
We, the undersigned, tenants and others in Foula, hereby bind and oblige ourselves to fulfil the following requirements on behalf of Mr Robert Gear, presently residing in Mogle, on condition that he be not removed from the said house and croft;—we shall put the roofs of his offices in proper order, thoroughly clean out said offices, build and repair his proportion of dykes to defy sheep and other animals, and guarantee the payment of his annual rent. We shall also undertake to see that there are peats provided sufficient for each year's requirements.
This document was signed by twelve men, ten of whom are tenants, with two young men to fill up the required number. Not one of the twelve, be it noted, are his immediate neighbours, most of them living at a considerable distance from him. Notwithstanding, I accepted it. But Gear need not remain if his stock be taken, so they guaranteed his debt to G. & Co. as well, it being generally understood that Gear would soon elicit sympathy by his and Mr Sands' letters, sufficient to loose the purse strings of benevolent people in ' the south' and consequently no great risk involved by becoming sureties for the martyr's debt. Thus, you will understand my taking action on Robert Gear, as tenant of Mogle, was in no wise connected with his appearance before you, but as a most disagreeable, uncongenial duty forced upon me in my capacity as factor, and all the result of the man's own indolence and obstinacy. As an illustration of his indolence, I was informed he allowed the carcases of one or two dead cows to remain among the dung in his byre, which had been left to accumulate for years ! The roofs of his offices were nigh rotten, his farm gradually going back to its original state of grass and moss, and his dykes neglected. I have reason to believe this man had no need to be in debt, for, on several occasions, he obtained £5 additional from the Society for P. C. K., to meet alleged loss of crop through storm and sea ; and four or five years ago, I was informed, he obtained £30 from the said Society with which to pay his debts. That was £50, besides the £7, &c, in one year ! A man having a good croft at £2 rent per annum, an income of say £27, at least, and all his time to himself, could have got out of debt, and lived comfortably in Foula.
The Foula people are by no means in debt, as was erroneously stated—quite the contrary,—and none of the crofters have, or ever had, the chance this lazy man enjoys. They supplement their income by catching fish for ' house use;' this man seldom risks his life on the ocean, or nigh-hand it. He has succeeded in making some of the more simple-minded believe he is their friend, and great things yet to be done for them. Apologising for the length of this statement, I have the honour to be, Sir,
yours most respectfully,
Royal Commission (Highlands and Islands).
. SEAFIELD HOUSE,
DUNDEE, January 12t*A, 1884,
Sir,—I have much pleasure in availing myself of the opportunity given to explain to the Honourable the Commissioners what lead to Robert Gear being summoned for a debt due to my firm. I wish especially to point out that he was not so dealt with because of his appearing as a delegate before the Commissioners in Foula. The mis-statements on that occasion regarding my firm were sufficiently contradicted by the people on the spot. I will endeavour as shortly as possible to explain why Gear was prosecuted. I was factor on the Melby estate when Gear (in 1872) was appointed teacher. He appeared with a wife and three children, without money or means to live for at least six months till he could draw salary. He could have little use of the farm allotted to him without stock, and the children required milk. He applied to my firm to advance him, which we did, from November to July, his cash advance mostly to buy cattle was £13, 19s., and for provisions and clothing £23, 3s. 9d., against which we received £10, and remained out of pocket £27, 2s. 9d. In the following year his wants were not small, and only his salary coming our way, the balance due us was £48, 10s. 3d. About this time his emoluments were largely increased, and at the next settlement he brought his balance down considerably. His stock began to thrive, and as he promised to pay off by instalments, we were in hopes he would eventually work out. We paid up his arrears of rent and gave usual advance of provisions, & c This year (1876-77) he did not pay in his salary to us, and his balance was worse than ever. In the following year his wife died, and his crop was poor, so expenses were heavy. Next year he married, and we only got part of his salary. We tried to be done with advancing him, and offered to
take 10s. in the pound, but this did not suit, and we struggled on with constant vexations until July last, when he was due £40, 0s. 6d., over £4 back on the year. Learning that through his indolence and neglect he had very little crop to keep his cattle—the only property he had we could attach. We wanted a settlement and offered to accept payment by instalments if he could find security. Although he had acknowledged his debt to be correct on the 27th July, as he had done for several years before, he wrote me on 15th August—
I have received your favours of the 11th inst, and the contents are just what I anticipated when I gave a faithful account of the condition of this island to the Royal Commission on the 18th ult I am sorry that I am unable to give security for the payment of the account you have against me ; and I hope you will not press for a settlement until the Report of the Royal Commission has been submitted to Parliament, when it may be found that the system on which business has been conducted here for many years is not as it should have been, and that legally my debt may not be so great after all as it seems at present.
My answer was, 25th August—
In reply to yours of 15th, I need only say that the condition of Foula has nothing to do with the payment of your account to my firm, nor is it possible that the Report of the Royal Commissioners will affect your debt, I therefore must insist upon payment immediately. His answer was rude, too long to copy here. His intention being evidently to exasperate. It was now apparent that what I had heard of his active teaching in Foula about their debts to the merchant was correct. On the 8th September, in order to make sure of two cattle he had ready for sale coming into my hands, I offered to buy them for £21, while they were only worth £12 to £13, if so much, but this sale he was cute enough to evade. All my claims on the Foula people were affected, and I had no alternative but to summon him, which I did. He appeared at Lerwick and took advice, but did to( appear before the Sheriff, and I got decree and did diligence. His effects, excepting his sheep, were pounded, the cattle he had no fodder for here sold extrajudicially, and nine of the Foula men—his church friends and disciples—gave an obligation to see the balance and expenses paid. Gear’s wild statements before the Commissioners, and his conduct about that time and afterwards as an agitator, may be accounted for by his being in close intercourse with another idle person, viz. J. Sands (who made himself notorious in relation to St Kilda and other western islands some time ago). Sands spent ten weeks in Foula this summer—six weeks before the Commissioners came and four after—as he says, ' rambling about the island with my archaeological spade on my shoulder, ... I frequently met the people, entered their houses, heard their complaints, saw their condition with my eyes, and expressed my sympathy’. Sands has been writing most startling letters to the newspapers to excite public sympathy for Gear, pretending that he has a mandate to represent the interests of Foula before the public. When his first letter to the Daily Mail, in September, reached Foula, the inhabitants held a public meeting, and the Rev. G. Morrison sent a reply repudiating Sands' statements. I send you herewith cuttings of these letters, which are not the last of the series. I am strongly opposed to everything approaching a truck system, and as regards Foula the system does not exist. In every insular locality the merchant must to accommodate the people, both buy and sell and give credit. In Foula the people have always had liberty to make their own bargains, and go where they pleased to fish or work. My firm's packet, running to and from the island for the past thirty-one years, has carried as many of the inhabitants as chose to travel free of freight. They have seven boats, one of which can carry three cattle or four tons of cargo, and are only eighteen miles from Walls. Dealers in cattle and with goods to barter sometimes visit the island without any objection ever having been made. After Sands' letter referred to above appeared, some of the Foula men wrote to me on the subject of it, and I send you two of the letters. Magnus Manson, who has been years a sailor abroad, and is respected in the island for his good sense, high character, and activity, writes, 2nd October—
If I had been at any of their meetings, and had been asked what I had to say about Messrs Garriock & Co., I would have told the truth, and that is, I have fished for Messrs Garriock & Co. over twenty years, and I have been at liberty to buy my meal, and anything I wanted besides, either in Scotland, or Orkney, or Lerwick, or Scalloway, and it never was asked me whether I had bought or not, or where I had bought; and if I pleased I could let my year's fishing stand till the settling day, and get every penny of it then and a good wish along with it.—S. S. MAGNUS MANSON, Momington, Foula.
The other letter, from Andrew Umphray, another respectable man, who for years was out of the island for employment on the mainland of Scotland and in Melbourne, goes on to say :—
I have been in your employ now for near thirty years, and all that time I have had nothing to say to you but good. You have always supplied me in everything I have required at the very lowest possible charges, and you have never hindered me to bell or buy from any other firm I choosed, which I had no need to do, as I have bought from you at the very cheapest rate.' I am proud to know that Foula exports produce and imports goods four times as much as it did thirty years ago, when I began to deal with it and develop its resources. I have, as a rule, had much pleasure in transacting with the Foula people, and but for the fact that I knew every person in the island, and was interested in their welfare, I would have cut my connection with them years ago as a merchant, for any profit from Foula has been dear bought—Apologising for the length of this communication, I am, Sir, yours very faithfully,
LEWIS F. U . GARRIOCK.
The Secretary, Royal Commission,
(Highlands and Islands), Edinburgh,
SCALLOWAY, August 11, 1883.
DEAR SIR,—I have been going over the Foula books since the settlement, and am sorry to see that, instead of your balance being reduced, there is an important increase. The balance, I observe, stands at £40, 0s. 6d., besides any advances you have had on the current half year's salary. For eight years now I have exercised patience above ordinary measure, and the return has been what you know. To get the amount gradually reduced is now hopeless, and I request payment in some form, or security for payment by instalments.—Waiting your reply with the needful, I am yours, & c ,
LEWIS F. U. GARRIOCK.
Mr Robert Gear, Foula.
Foula, August 15,1883.
DEAR SIR,—I have received your favour of the 11th inst., and the contents are just what I anticipated, when I gave a faithful account of the condition of this island to the Royal Commission on the 18th ult. I am sorry that I am unable to give security for the payment of the account you have against me, and I hope you will not press for a settlement until the Report of the Royal Commission has been submitted to Parliament, when it may be found that the system on which business has been conducted here for many years is not as it should have been, and that legally my debt may not be so great after all as it seems at present—I am, yours faithfully,
L. F. U . Garriock, Esq., Scalloway