STATEMENT by JOHN BRUCE, Esq. of Sumburgh.
SANDWICH, LERWICK, SHETLAND,
SAND LODGE, 8th August 1883.
I HAD written fully to the Rev. G. Clerk, Free Church, Conningsburgh, on the statements given by the delegates to the Crofters' Commission, to offer to them an opportunity to examine the facts, to correct their evidence, and report to the Commission, when I was informed that Mr Clerk had left Shetland not to return for some weeks; and, therefore, I now address my letter to your Lordship and the gentlemen of the Commission. Mr Clerk stated, on ' they say' evidence, that ' I had taken an unfair advantage of James Smith of the cottage,' and this he has done without having asked any explanation from me, or even having spoken to me on the subject. I hear also that James Smith sent a letter to the Commissioners, which was handed to my son to read in court. I do not know its contents, but I deny altogether that I have taken any unfair advantage of James Smith. He rented his cottage from me from 1856 to 1876, twenty years, at a rent of £3 and £3, 15s. per annum, equal to a lease, without any other rise of rent or any written lease. In 1861 he asked me to give him £12, as he said, to plenish his house and make it more comfortable, and he offered to pay 15s. more rent. I gave him the £12. I afterwards gave him the waste land round his house—about an acre —to cultivate, and help to keep a cow, and for this I never charged him any rent. Prior to 1860, James Smith had asked me for a lease, which I might have granted then had we met and come to an agreement as to conditions. About 1860 he again asked me to give him a lease, which I at once decidedly refused to do ; and he must have quite understood why the lease was refused, for he has never asked me again to give him a lease. He commanded a packet boat between Sandsair and Lerwick, and when he was in town he was apt to indulge; and we could not submit to have so near a neighbour given up to habits we could not approve of, without some check in case his habit should become a nuisance to us and his nearer neighbours, and, given a lease, we had no check during the lease. Several of my respectable tenants have leases—one for life, one fifty years, and several for shorter periods.
Laurence Jameson, another of the Conningsburgh delegates, has stated, along with other fictions, ' that twenty or thirty years ago,' our fathers were bound to fish to the proprietors, some of the me n stuck out, and did not do so, and they had to pay for one man 20s., and for two men 50s., &c. This is untrue. The truth is, that I have settled with all the tenants, from 1827 to 1874, when I resigned the management to my son— forty-seven years— and never took one penny from old or young men w ho did not hsh to me ; and every boat's crew, as they settled, got from me the boat's account, and every man his own account, that if there was any mistake, they had only to bring me my own writing, to have it corrected. The me n expected the proprietor to order in for them nets, lines, with aR kinds of stores and provisions for the season ; and, as a matter of course, he binds the men to fish to him before he orders in their stores, &c. The tenants pay day's work, as part of their rent, to cut hit peats, lead them home, hoe his potatoes, cure his hay, &c. Without such an agreement, the proprietor,in the busy summertime, could get no labourers, and therefore he could not reside in the country amongst his tenants ; and on the same accouut they had to pay some poultry, or the proprietors would often be reduced to short commons, there being no butchers but one at Lerwick. We never refuse a new house where the ground officer and the mason reports it to be needful; and my dimensions are 30 feet long by 12 feet broad, with 6 feet of wall and two windows. Many of the tenants of old having made their byre the portico to their dwelling-house, are loth to alter it. The byre portico keeps the house warm, and the fire of the house keeps the cows warm.