ANDREW SPENCE, Crofter, Breakon, North (53)—examined.
19705. The Chairman.
—Are you a fisherman?
—No, I have been badly, and not able to attend the fishing.
19706. Have you any statement which you wish to make?
—Yes. I am living on a wasting property, as it is blown nearly away with sand; and if it had not been for the improvements my father made from the hill we would not have been living. Sixteen years ago, a man became factor of the land, and laid on a sum of £1 on the rent for the hill, and after that he railed in the hill and took it away altogether; so that I have nothing but a piece of land inside, and my animals I have to put out on other people's property.
19707. Does that statement apply to the other crofters in the same place?
—To a good many.
19708. When the hill was enclosed and taken away from the crofters, was there any reduction made on their rent?
—None for us.
19709. What stock do you keep at present?
—I have three Shetland cows.
19711. Any sheep?
19712. How many acres of arable ground have you within the fence?
—It was called eight merks in the old Shetland style; but I think there are about three parts of it blown away. I suppose it is four merks or acres now.
19713. Three-fourths of it blown away?
—Yes, three merks I would reckon.
19714. Have you any idea how many acres according to our measure?
19715. What rent do you pay?
—£5 of rent, and 2s. of road money.
19716. When you had the hill, how much stock did you keep?
—Just the same as we keep now, I believe. I could not exactly say, because I was away at the time, and my father had possession.
19717. You think the crofters keep as much stock now as they did when they had the common pasture of the hill?
—Some of the heritors left when the scathold or hill was divided, and gave their tenants enough off the hill to serve them; others took it away altogether.
19718. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
— Had you no sheep when you had the scathold land?
—Yes, but the man who took possession of the scathold land brought sheep into the district, and there was scab came amongst them, and killed them off, and it is still amongst ours. The farmers dipped their sheep, but we just poured the dip on ours, and in winter they all died. Some have sheep still, and others none.
19719. The Chairman.
—Do those who have sheep pay more than the others, or do they all pay the same?
—Every man pays according to the land he has. The crofters alongside of me hold under the Earl of Zetland. They hold 11 merks, and pay £5 a year; but it is on a wasting property. The Earl of Zetland left sufficient hill for the stock they had when the scathold was divided.
19720. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Who is your proprietor?
—Major Andrew Cameron.
19721. Has he a factor in North Yell?
—Yes, a very fine man; but of course, he could not go beyond Major Cameron's orders or the way he found the property after Walker left it. Walker, who took away the hill, left some years ago; and the gentlemen who is in it now just has it something as he found it. Walker wronged every person, and would not have cared whether the sheep were put under a dyke or what we did with them. I believe he spoiled the major.
19722. Did you make any representation to Mr Walker that the rents should be reduced when the scathold was taken away?
—I only paid the rent to him two or three years, and he gave me no satisfaction.
19723. But you did represent it to him?
19721. Your complaint is that you have lost the scathold, and have not had any reduction of rent in consequence?
—Yes, I want some of the scathold back if it were possible —some of the hill back belonging to the property.
19725. You said you had to pay others for keeping your stock; do you pay for the grazing of cows or ponies?
—No, I graze them on the property I pay for; but what I put on the hill I feed on other property, or I could not keep so many animals.
19726. The Chairman.
—What about your house?
—The last factor that came in to act for Major Cameron repaired our houses; we have no complaint against the house,
19727. Is it the custom in your place that the proprietor builds the house?
—Yes, I believe the house was built by the proprietor first. I could not say when it was built, but I am the fourth occupant.
19728. But is it the general custom that the proprietor builds or helps you to build the house?
19729. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many of the crofters are in the same position as yourself?
—There are a great many.
19730. How many people are complaining like yourself?
—I could not say, but there are a great many.
19731. How many people have the same cause of complaint as you have?
—A great many, but I could not say the number.
19732. How many families are there in your town —how many crofters altogether?
—In our town there are from twenty to thirty, but they are not all under the same landlord.
19733. And is it only the condition of the tenants of the one that you complain about?
—I have only one landlord. The other tenants are complaining, but they don't bring in their case because we expected you on the 20th, and you are only come now. A telegram came from Lerwick last night, and they had not time to take their place along with us.
19731. But there are thirty crofters?
—From twenty to thirty.
19735. Who has got the scathold land which was taken from you?
—Major Cameron's factor has it, I believe.
19736. It is one big farm, is it not?
—It was made into parks—a sheepfarm.
19737. Have you any idea how many acres would be in that land which was taken away from your predecessors, and is now in this sheep farm—is it a big farm?
—Our little bit is not a great many acres.
19738. Was the hill ground taken altogether?
—A great many acres; I could not really say how many, because I was not at home at the time, and have no idea; but it is a great quantity of hill.
19739. You say no allowance was made for you in the rent that was taken from you?
—-No, Walker laid on £1 , I was led to understand, and it was never taken off. He took away the hill; we have only liberty to cut our peat.
19740. Is there any reason why you could not get back the land; it is not let upon lease?
—-I could not say how it is exchanged; it is exchanged, I understand, to another man, more especially the piece that belonged to the croft that I held.
19741. Have you ever seen your proprietor himself?
19742. Does he ever come to North Yell?
—I am not aware, but I have seen his factor, and he would have been inclined to have done something, but it appears things are in such a case that he just has it as he found it.
19743. How long has Major Cameron been proprietor?
—He got the property from his father.
19744. And how long is it since his father died?
—I really cannot say.
19745. Is it a long time?
—I believe it is about twenty or thirty years back; but I could not exactly say, because I was not here at the time.
19746. Are you and your neighbours impoverished in your circumstances, in consequence of the taking away of this ground?
—My next neighbour belongs to the Earl of Zetland's property, and the Earl left sufficient hill for their stock, so that they are not impoverished. But some of their land was blown away, and they have got a reduction of rent.
19747. Are your own circumstances worse in consequence?
—I am hemmed in, and the other tenants throw it up to me that I am putting animals on their property.
19748. Are there other people impoverished in their circumstances in consequence of being deprived of land?
—Yes, I believe there are. The hill was common belonging to all men, and they came and took it away from us.
19749. Is the ceasing of keeping sheep rather a loss to you?
—A great loss.
19750. Was it the native sheep you kept?
—Yes, the Shetland sheep.
19751. The Chairman.
—Did you use the wool of the native sheep for making clothes at home?
—Yes, stockings and blankets, and the old people made outside clothes of it also.