DAVID CHARLES EDMONSTON (46)—examined.
20269. The Chairman.
—Are you a proprietor?
—No; a factor.
20270. Do you occupy any land yourself?
20271. Then I may say you are a factor and farmer?
20272. You have no other factor?
—I am, in fact, lessee of the estate, too —lessee and factor. I pay a free rent to Mrs Edmonston for the
estate of Buness.
20273. Have you been long resident in the island?
—All my life, with the exception of a few years.
20274. And engaged both as factor on estate management, and in fanning on your own account?
20275. Have you had any other commerce,—as a fish-curer, for instance?
—Yes; I started business when twenty-one, as a fish-curer and general merchant. I continued that for eight or nine years, and then gave it up.
20276. You have heard what has been stated by the small tenants here to-day?
20277. Is there any statement you wish to make in consequence of what you have heard?
—There are one or two statements I might make. When I heard the tenants were to come here to day, I drew up a statement which I shall read:
Previous to about the year 1820, the land in Shetland was let in small crofts and the rents paid in kind
—part in fish, butter, oil, and money. The lands were low rated, and the price of produce was also low, so that the proprietors looked for their rents out of the sales of what they got from the people. It sometimes happened that the price of Shetland produce was very low in the southern markets, and in such times the net rentals were very smalL The proprietors generally managed their own estates, compelling the men to fish for, and deliver to them, the whole of the produce, both of sea and land, and were thus fish-curers and merchants. In some cases, however, they let their properties to middlemen, or tacksmen as they were called, getting a slump sum in money, and allowing the tacksmen to make what profit they could out of the people, the tenants of course, being bound to fish for and deliver their produce to them. During last century the population was only about half what it is at present. There were few or no large farms, as the great object was to increase the number of fishermen, and thus the land was sub-divided into small lots; and there being little or no emigration, the population naturally increased very rapidly. Under this old system, the people were generally well to do, and there was little or no debt due on the land. The ground was well-cultivated and almost self-supporting; little or no meal was imported. As intercourse with the South became more frequent, and people began to know the prices of sea and farm produce, the old system engendered discontent, and, forgetting that if they were selling their produce cheap, they also had their farms at a nominal rent, the tenants called loudly for a fairer market value being put upon all. Between the years 1820 and 1830, or in some cases before that time, most of the proprietors had revalued their lands and given up the old system, allowing the people to fish for whom they chose, and sell their produce to the highest bidder, merely asking payment of the rents when they annually fell due at Martinmas. The result of this free trade was that innumerable shopkeepers sprang up, and the people were induced to barter their produce from hand to mouth, for luxuries which they could not afford, thus acquiring a taste for articles which superseded the coarser and healthier produce of their farms; the land was neglected, and refused to produce anything like its former increase. The home-spun and comfortable woollen clothing was superseded by the light and cold cotton textures of the present time, the native wool being made up into finer articles for the southern markets, and bartered for light clothing and eatables, and thus the people were neither fed nor clothed like their ancestors. The consequence of all this was that they got seriously into debt both to landlords and merchants, and one of the largest and first of the free trade proprietors emphatically declared that had he been a younger man, he would have put his "shoulder to the wheel," and gone back to the old and paternal government of his estate, as the best suited at that time for both landlord and tenant. Up to 1867, the crofts on the Buness estate were mostly "runrig;" and in that season the whole property was carefully gone over and divided out in separate lots, so that each tenant got his farm by itself. At the same time each holding was valued at what was considered a fair money rent, and the tenants without exception all took their holdings and seemed satisfied. Up to this time the scatholds or hill ground were pastured by the people in common, aud it often happened that the principal stocks belonged to tenants of other proprietors, shopkeepers, and squatters. Those who were not Buness tenants were requested to remove their animals. A certain proportion of the scatholds were enclosed and let out as sheep farms, but in nearly every case a portion next the town lands was reserved for the crofters. An attempt was then made to induce the people to take leases and improve their holdings, by breaking out more land draining, sub-dividing, and rotation of crops; but while many adopted a sort of rotation, and with the most marked benefit, others have not done so, and in all cases the leases were emphatically refused. Many would have taken them with a clause binding the proprietor, but leaving the tenant free to remove any year he chose; but this one-sided agreement was not granted, and so the crofts on the Buness estate are mostly all held on yearly tenancy. Almost contemporaneous with this rearrangement of crofts, came a run of good fishings and high prices for cattle of all kinds, and so the tenants have generally paid their rents with moderate regularity. Another help to this is the fact that since 1867 the breed of horned cattle has been greatly improved throughout the island. Previous to 1865, the poor rate was voluntary and entirely paid by the proprietors. In that year this rate alone rose to the enormous sum of 7s. in the pound of gross rental; this was owing to all the small proprietors, who hold about a fourth of the parish, refusing to pay their proportion, and in that year the rate fell on Lord Zetland, Garth, and Buness. This was found to be such a grievous burden, that it was resolved to adopt the Rowland Act of 1845 in its entirety, and the rates at the present time are 3s. 6d. for poor and Is. 6d. for school, levied half on proprietors and half on tenants. A large proportion of this rate goes to maintain six pauper lunatics in Montrose Asylum. The whole houses on the Buness estate are built and repaired by the proprietors without charging any interest or additional rent. An average Buness croft may; be stated at £5 rent, which consists of from five to ten acres of town land, a house, peat ground, liberty on the hill for ponies, cattle and sheep, and an average stock that may be kept on such a holding may be stated at three milk cows, two young cattle, three breed mares, and six to twelve ewes, besides pigs and poultry. Whilst many have this stock and more, there are no doubt many who do not have it; this is owing to a variety of circumstances, amongst which is inability to purchase a stock to start with. There has been no rise of rent on the Buness estate since 1867. In 1874-5 the islands were stumped by emigration agents from New Zealand, and a great many people were induced to take advantage of the assisted passages, and went out to that colony. Several of the Buness tenants were of the number, and in most cases each carried with him a clear sum of from £30 to £200 as the result of their savings here. In cases where townships were partially left vacant, several tenants were moved from one place to another and concentrated, in order that something might be made of a whole township, when nothing could be got out of a vacant portion. There is not a croft vacant at present on the estate. In 1867 it had 118 holdings, and at present there are 106. A great portion is expected for trust, in consequence of the new enterprise in fishing which has lately been started by South country as well as native curers. The small native boats are being fast superseded by larger decked ones, and many of the men are hiring themselves as hands in the larger boats.Men, women, aud children are all at present remuneratively employed, and the result is showing itself in many ways. The present rental of the Buness estate, as appearing in the valuation roll, includes sums of over £100 for interest on Government loans of money laid out on the estate. This goes to swell the rental, and is not actual rise of rent.—I prepared this statement hurriedly, and it may be to the point or not.
20278. You spoke of an improvement in the cattle; what was the nature of the improvement which has been effected —has it been an improvement in the native breed by selection, or has a new breed been introduced?
—It is a new cross breed; better breeders have been got
20279. What is the cross which was used principally?
—Principally shorthorn with the Shetland, and it makes a most admirable cross.
20280. A direct cross between a shorthorn bull and a Shetland cow?
20281. And it produces a good animal?
—Yes; an animal which, if well. fed, comes to be heavy and hardy at the same time.
20282. A good milker?
20283. Has the improved breed extended to the small tenants, or is it in the hands of the small farmers?
—It has extended to the small tenants.
20284. Is there any export of the young cattle at one and two year old?
—A large export.
20285. What prices are they realising for the one and two year olds?
—I could not say—perhaps from £5 to £9.
20286. £5 for a stirk, and for two-year-olds up to £9?
20287. What was the original price of a stirk and two-year-old of the old original breed?
—The price has been increasing during the last few years. A stirk is scarcely a saleable animal in Shetland —it is so small; but two and three year olds have been selling at from 40s. to 60s.
20288. Is this improved breed exclusively adopted all over?
—More or less in this island especially.
20289. And is it progressing?
—I should say so.
20290. How do they winter their improved cattle; do they stand out all the winter?
—No, they always house them.
20291. The native cattle go out all winter?
—All the Shetland cattle are housed.
20292. You mean really housed for several months?
—Oh, yes; from October until May all right, I daresay they are run out every good day for a few hours.
20293. What is given to them in winter?
20294. Should that not increase the area of the arable cultivation?
—It ought to.
20295. And is there no increase in the area of arable cultivation?
—I don't think so; in very few cases.
20296. Is the corn which was originally threshed for consumption by the people now given without threshing to the cattle, or do they prepare as much for domestic consumption as ever they did?
—I think they thresh as much for domestic consumption as they used to do. I do not think in ordinary seasons they have to give the corn unthreshed to the animals.
20297. Is there an improvement in the ponies, or a greater demand, or is the demand falling off?
—There is a great demand for them, but there is no change in the breed. In fact they do not want a change, because they cannot be got small enough. The small ones always fetch the highest prices in the market.
20298. Is attention paid to the selection of the breeders?
—I don't think so. It may be by a few of the gentlemen who have pony farms; they may attend a little to selection; but I don't think there is any selection amongst the crofters. In fact, it is the ' halt and maimed ' that are kept for breeders.
20299. We have heard a good deal to-day of the withdrawal of the hillpasture from tenants, and the consolidation of them into sheep farms; has that been the practice upon Buness estate?
20300. Has that been prejudicial to the condition of the small tenants?
—I don't think so at all.
20301. In the case of the withdrawal of the hill pasture, has there been any proportionate reduction of rent?
—No, because in all the cases where we enclosed hill pasture it was very extensive, and far more than
our tenants could occupy. It was occupied by the tenants of other proprietors all over the island, and we, in almost every case, left some scathold for the tenants.
20302. Almost in every case?
—Almost in every case.
20303. And when none at all was left, in this exceptional case was a reduction of rent made?
—No, because it was the same year that the scatholds were enclosed that the rents were all gone over and equalised. They had never been looked after for perhaps fifty years, and in many cases they were reduced, and in other cases increased, in order to equalise them. I would find two men sitting in the same town and having the same quantity of ground and advantages, the one paying perhaps half as much as the other, that having arisen no doubt long ago by the demand for land.
20304. When the house of one of your small tenants becomes ruinous or dilapidated, he applies, I suppose, for repairs; in that case, is the expenditure in repairing the house entirely at the charge of the landlord?
—Entirely. About that man Robert Johnston, he applied to me last year saying that the roof of his house was bad. I sent a man, and had it partially repaired, because there was such a demand for labour on the island I could not get men to repair it. On Friday last I got a note from him, to say that the couples of his house were bad, and I am just waiting for a mason to go and get it repaired.
20305. In the case of repairing such a house, what amount of money expenditure does it imply to the proprietor?
—Often three years' gross rent, A new house will cost on an average about £20.
20306. Not more than £20?
—A new cottage.
20307. In the case of a cottage which costs £20, what is the description of building? Is it built with stone and lime?
—Stone and lime. Since I had anything to do with them, I have been building them with lime, because they stand better.
20308. Is it really possible to build a two-roomed cottage with stone and lime walls and a weather-tight roof for £20?
—Either a turf or thatch. The rafters are of wood, and then the turf is put upon the top, and straw over that.
20309. In the case of a house so built, does the tenant pay the first thatch?
—He does first the whole thatching; that is all he does.
20310. Does he also do the divisions in the inside of the house?
—We just build the walls of the house and put the roof on. The tenant puts in box beds, which make a division, and we have nothing to do with that.
20311. There are two chimnies in the house?
—Yes, in a new house, and windows and doors. We supply the doors.
20312. How many years' rental of the croft do you estimate it would cost?
—About four years' gross rental on an average; and that means about eight years, the landlord gets nothing, and his taxes will be well on to 10s. in the £.
20313. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you been in charge of the property since 1867?
—Yes, and before that.
20314. Then it was under your charge when the scathold was taken off the crofters?
—Yes, it was.
20315. The principal complaint we have had to-day seems to be the loss of the scathold. Do you thiuk there is good ground for that?
—There may be in some cases, where the tenants have no scathold at all.
20316. But, on the Buness property, you think they have scathold, generally speaking?
—They have all, with two exceptions, sufficient for their arable land; of course, not to keep 200 or 300 sheep, as they used to do, but sufficient to run out young ponies and cattle, and a few sheep.
20317. But if they used to keep 200 or 300 sheep, won't they feel it to be a hardship to have lost that power?
20318. It is an actual loss to them, because they pay the same rent as before?
—-In some cases they do, and in some cases more.
20319. But you have not taken into account, in their new rent, that they have not that power of grazing 200 or 300 sheep?
—No; we valued their croft and the privileges outside, and put on what we considered a fair thing for the man to pay. A man having six, eight, or ten of a family, and paying £3 to £5 of rent, would scarcely be supposed to live entirely on a croft of that size. He must work outside to supplement his living.
20320. Do the women make much money by knitting?
—They have made a good deal in years gone by.
20321. Have they a chance of doing so now?
—Not just now ; Shetland hosiery seems a drug in the market.
20322. There is no demand for it?
—I believe the merchants who have been buying it have great difficulty in selling it, and have stocks which they cannot dispose of. There is so much cheap woven stuff in the market, that people won't give the prices for hand-wrought shawls.
20323. Have they any difficulty in getting Shetland wool for their work?
—I think there is enough Shetland wool for the demand, and for coarser articles of underclothing; they buy a considerable quantity of Cheviot wool, of which we allow them—at least I do —to select the best fleeces at clipping. It is the same time; I get the same price for a fine fleece as for a coarse, and for many years I have been selling it at about Is. per lb., for the last four or five years at least.
20321. What does the Shetland wool sell at?
—I have a few Shetland sheep on the land, and I sell it at Is. 8d. per lb.
20325. Is that white or coloured wool?-
—White; and 2s. for black.
20326. The yellow wool sells highest?
—I don't know; I have none of it.
20327. Mr Cameron.
—You stated that some of the scathold land was turned into sheep farms; where did the sheep farmers come from who took the land?
—I occupy two.
20328. Did any come from a distance?
—Mr Sievewright, writer, Lerwick, took one.
20329. Did they find houses on these places, or were houses built for them?
—We don't require a house. There is only a shepherd on the farm, and one of the old cottages did for him.
20330. And they just work it as a sheep farm?
—It was enclosed by the proprietor, and sub-divided, and he wrought it as a sheep farm.
20331. Is there any arable ground attached to these farms,—has the large tenant got arable ground along with the grazing ground?
—Yes; Mr Sievewright got a good deal of the crofters' arable land and it was all laid down in grass.
20332. Does he plough any of the land on the sheep farm now?
—No; he gave it up two or three years ago, and it is let to another tenant.
20333. Have any of the sheep to be wintered away?
—Well, a number of the blackfaced sheep have grass. The grey-faced lambs, from Leicester tups, are all sold; a few have pure blackfaced lambs, and they are kept for stock.
20331. But none of the pure blackfaced stock require to be sent away for wintering?
—No; they are wintered here, both ewes and wethers.
20335. And the scathold which remains to the crofters is equally good land with that which is now occupied by the sheep farmers?
—Yes, it is just a slice off it.
20336. If the land is sufficiently good to enable them to graze blackfaced ewes and Leicester tups, would not the remaining land be able to support a better class than the Shetland sheep?
—I should doubt the crofters being able to support that class of sheep, because in the case of Mr Sievewright and myself, we have old town lands, and keep the ewes with the cross lambs there, and the pure blackfaced sheep on the hill.
20337. Then this ground taken from the crofters was the best?
20338. Then why should not the crofters use what remains, the same as the sheep fanners does?
—Because with the scathold left him he has no old arable land, whilst the large farmer has.
20339. Then where .does the large farmer get this arable land?
—It is included in the scathold; it is attached to the scathold.
20340. That would show that the large farmer got the best of the scothold, because he got this town land with it?
—The town land was not scathold.
20341. What was it then?
—That is where the emigration took place from when the tenants left.
20342. But he got the vacant crofts?
—Yes, and he keeps the cross sheep on these places.
20343. Speaking generally, do you consider that the crofters might work their common land in conjunction with their crofts in a more profitable manner that they do now?
—I think they could. I think they could get much more out of it if they were to put blackfaced sheep on it, and employ one man to herd them all. The native sheep are so very wild, that really I do not think there is much profit in them.
20344. Although the wool of the native sheep appears of a higher class than that of the blackfaced sheep, don't you consider that the difference would be more than made up for by the price they would get for the mutton?
—No, I do not; because the few Shetland sheep I have will only average about 1½ pounds of wool, whilst the blackfaced would be more.
20345. What I meant was, even supposing the Shetland wool to be more valuable than the blackfaced, would it not be more profitable for a crofter to keep blackfaced sheep in respect of the price which he would get for the carcase?
—I think so.
20346. And besides that advantage he would also reap a benefit in the greater weight of the wool which he would get from a blackfaced sheep ?
20347. Do you consider there is anything in the climate or soil to prevent him growing average blackfaced stock?
—No; I think the blackfaced stock improve here on similar land.
20348. Have any of the crofters, so far as you know, through Shetland, adopted this mode of pasturing their land with blackfaced sheep?
—I don't think so, so far as I know. Some of them have crossed them with the Shetland, but they do not make a good cross.
20349. You say that iu 1875 many people went to New Zealand; have good accounts been heard of those who went?
—A number of them have done well.
20350. Have they written home any good accounts to their friends?
20351. Has that encouraged more people to go?
20352. The population here does not require thinning?
—No; because it is not the land they depend upon, but the sea. We don't want the population to decrease, and never did.
20353. Is there any disinclination on the part of the people to take leases when they are offered to them?
—Yes; they will only take them on one condition, so far as I can speak to, and that is that they shall be at liberty to leave when they like.
20351. That there is to be a break in favour of the tenant, and not in favour of the landlord?
20355. Why do they object to leases in the ordinary way?
—They just say that something may occur, and that they would like to leave, and would not like to be bound for five or seven or ten or nineteen years. That is the invariable reply.
20356. Besides the ordinary fishing which the people occupy themselves with, do any of them go to the whale fishing?
—Not many from Unst.
20357. Did they use to go?
—Yes; perhaps forty or fifty years ago.
20358. Not subsequent to that period ?
—Not in my memory; very few.
20359. Do any of the whaling vessels come to Lerwick to pick up crews?
—Yes, from Peterhead and Dundee.
20360. Have you any idea how many whaling seamen go from Lerwick?
—No, I could not say; perhaps ten or fifteen ships call to pick up crews
20361. Do they engage them through a broker, or do the people engage themselves?
—They engage through an agent in Lerwick.
20362. And do they settle with this agent for wages on their return?
—I believe so. They got so much in advance, and then they are paid a stated wage by the month, and so much oil money.
20363. That is all done through the broker?
—It is all done through the broker and captain.
20361. Where are the ships paid off—at Peterhead or Dundee?
—They generally call and leave the Shetland portion of the crew where they can.
20365. Do they settle immediately for what is due?
—They go to Lerwick and settle with the broker.
—I don't know whether or not it lies for a little time.
20367. Does the broker supply them with clothes or other articles in advance?
20368. Have you ever heard any dissatisfaction expressed with the method of engaging these whaling fishermen?
—No, I have not.
20369. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have had charge of this property since 1867?
20370. You seem only to have been twenty years old then ?
—No, I was thirty; but I have had the management of the property since 1860.
20371. What relationship is there between yourself and the proprietor?
20372. Explain what you mean by stating you are the lessee of the estate?
—I have a long lease of the whole estate from Mrs Edmonston. I pay her a free money rent annually for it, and take my chance of the rates; I do all the building of the houses, and meet all the expenses on the property, and give her a free money rent annually.
20373. Does the return in the valuation roll show all that is received from the tenants?
—I return all the rents I receive to the valuation roll.
20374. What advantage do you make then by holding the lease?
—I have a proportion of the rental; I have something off it.
20375. You derive no rental from the occupation of the crofters?
—An average was taken, and I pay so much a year and make the best of it; and I hold two farms in my own hand.
20376. Do the returns of the valuation roll show the full rent the crofters pay to you?
20377. You mentioned the number of holdings in 1867 upon the estate?
—118; and 106 now.
20378. Can you inform us how many people were shifted in 1866 in order to constitute the two new tacks?
—I could not say really.
20379. Would there be as many as sixty families?
—No, not the fourth of that.
20380. At any time since 1867 there has not been that number?
—Not that number; but I could not say how many, unless I were referring to the books.
20381. What was your object in making that change; was it to benefit the condition of the people then on the estate, or with the object of introducing the sheep farms?
—No; I was factor on the estate, and the fact was that Mr Edmonston was not getting a couple of hundred a year out of the estate, and something had to be done in order to give him something to live upon.
20382. And the rental is now £900 ?
20383. You have mentioned the price of Shetland wool as Is. 8d. to 2s. for black; what is the price of the blackfaced wool?
—What I have sold was sold at 7d. per lb.
20384. And how is it you say the blackfaced would be more profitable than the native?
—Because there is no comparison between the carcases of the two—of the blackfaced and Shetland sheep. The blackfaced is worth, perhaps, four times the amount of the Shetland, or five times as much.
20385. Can you give us any idea of the number of acres of land once under cultivation, but which is now out of cultivation, in the farms occupied by yourself and the other tenant?
—No, I can scarcely tell; I do not know that I could give anything like an idea. Do you mean what was held by crofters and cultivated?
—A considerable lot; but I could not tell; several hundred acres, I should say.
20387. That is lost, then, to the island for producing grain ?
—I do not know that it is lost; I am producing grain on one of the large farms where it was not producing grain before.
20388. How many acres have you under cultivation?
—About sixty; but it is under rotation of crop of course.
20389. But on the other farm the tenant was non-resident, and had no cultivation?
20390. With regard to these small crofters, don't you think it was expected that they should make their living out of it, or that they must make their living elsewhere?
—I said so. I do not think a man with a large family could expect, with a £3 or a £5 croft, that he should be able to live on.
20391. Did it never occur to you that it would be better to increase the crofts of these people to such an extent that they might live on their produce?
—Yes; they had full liberty to get as much land as ever they wanted. The reason why we laid out sheep farms was that a number of the men had been lost by boat accidents, and a number had died, and there were no young men coming up wanting crofts. We had crofts vacant over the whole estate and we had to concentrate; the proprietor was getting very little rent, and we had to concentrate, and we removed tenants—perhaps two or three from one town—and put them into vacant places in another town, and then utilised these vacant towns by enclosing them for sheep.
20392. In the case of these removals, did you increase the holding?
—If they wished it we did.
20393. How do you mean—did you give then a larger area?
—Some of them took two crofts.
20394. And are in possession of them now?
—Yes; and some may have taken one and a half and so forth, if they wished.
20395. Are you satisfied that these operations which were carried through have been for the material benefit of the people?
—I don't think it has done them any harm.
20396. You don't think they have any ground of complaint?
—I don't think so.
20397. Are you aware that they did complain?
20398. Would you give us a little information about the small property called Hammer; is there not such a place?
—Yes; on the north side of the Sound.
20399. It seems to be going to wreck, and the farm house to lie in ruins?
—The proprietrix, Mrs Spence, was a widow lady who emigrated with her two daughters to New Zealand, and left it in the hands of her nephew in Edinburgh, who is a lawyer.
20400. I want the reason generally of this state of things?
—Asking too much rent.
20401. Were the tenants removed against their will?
—No, none; it was a home farm, and not occupied by tenants at all.
20402. Not towards Haroldswick?
—No tenants have been removed between this and Haroldswick.
20403. There are considerable ruins of houses?
—People have died or left; none have been dispossessed.
20404. You made use of an expression which I should like you to reconsider; you said that Shetland hosiery was a drug in the market ?
20405. You don't mean that to apply to pure Shetland wool?
—I mean it to apply to fine articles, such as shawls and veils.
20406. Which are entirely of Shetland wool?
20407. Not mixed?
—I understand so; I mean in market buying and selling. I hear people coming, for instance, to Mrs Edmonston with things and asking very low prices; they will take anything almost, because they cannot get them sold; and I am told by merchants that they have large stocks and cannot dispose of them in the southern markets.
20408. Have you heard any complaint by those who knit them that they have great difficulty in getting wool?
—I cannot say that I have.
20409. Have the prices of pure Shetland wool products fallen or net of late?
—I believe they have fallen.
20410. In consequence of overproduction?
—I do not know what it is the consequence of. I rather think it is from the fact of machine goods being made. I see fine Shetland shawls selling for Is. 6d. and 5s.
20411. But you know these are machine made?
—Yes, I do.
20412. In fact, the Shetland people have to complain of these machines? '
— Certainly; I think they have no right to mark these things Shetland; they never saw Shetland at all.
20413. Are there any arrears of rent upon your estate, or do the tenants pay pretty well?
—They pay pretty well, but there are always some arrears.
20414. Are most of them engaged in fishing as well?
—-A number are.
20115. Do you find those engaged in fishing pay you better than those who are not?
—I don't think they do, but they have paid with fairly good regularity for a number of years back.
20416. Is there any land in Unst occasionally for sale in small portions, whereby the people who have a little money may become proprietors?
—There is; there is some for sale just now—small pieces.
20417. Do they sell high or low?
—Last year there were one or two small pieces sold here very high. Perhaps that was owing to the situation; but I have seen small properties in the market for a long time without a purchaser.
20418. What would be a fair purchase taking it by so many years—what do you consider a common thing?
—Twenty years used to be considered a fair rate.
20419. No more than that?
20420. Are you speaking of net or gross rental?
—Gross rental; there is a very great difference between net and gross rental in Shetland.
20421. So that, when you say twenty years, you speak of gross rental?
20422. Is this locality of Balta Sound coming into considerable importance?
—It is, owing to the fishing.
20423. Is there any intention, upon the part of the proprietor or yourself, of erecting any harbour or quay accommodation?
—I don't think so; not at present.
20424. Would it not pay you to do so?
—I think it would, if we had the money, but we have not the money to do it. I would do it at once if we could get money cheap, and it would be a very great accommodation to the fishermen and fish-curers.
20425. Supposing anything were done in the way of accommodation—that Government should do something by making a quay for vessels coming in here—would there be sufficient revenue to pay a fair interest upon it?
—I think there would, if the fishing held good; and I think there is every prospect of the fishing increasing instead of the contrary.
20426. Within your own knowledge, during the last few years, it has increased considerably?
20427. Is the number of boats we now see up to the average or beyond what was here last year?
—They are far beyond. There were only eleven here last year, and there are something like 180 just now.
20428. Sheriff Nicolson.
—I think you stated that, at the time of Mr Edmonston's death, he drew only £200. Does that mean that the rental was only £200?
—Clear rental; he had only that to spend for some years.
20429. What was the rental in the valuation roll at that time?
—Between £500 and £600.
20430. So that it has been nearly doubled since then?
20431. Is it not £962 now?
—But that is including the fishing stations. There was a lot let off for fishing stations last year.
20432. At what rate is the charge for fishing stations?
—£10 to £12.
20433. Upon whom is the charge levied for these stations—-how is the money raised?
—From the curer; I let them so much ground for a station.
20434. Whether is the bulk of the rent paid by the sheep farms or the smallers farmers or crofters?
—The bulk is paid by the crofters, I should think.
0435. Has there been any considerable increase of their rents since 1867?
—No increase since that time.
20436. So that the whole increase of rent was at that time?
—It was put on at that time.
20437. What is the rental of these two sheep farms?
—I have not the valuation roll, and can hardly say. There are four large farms on the estate.
20438. What proportion of the total rental on the estate was paid by the crofters?
—I cannot very well tell from memory; the valuation roll, of course, shows.
20439. Sheep farming on a large scale is quite recent in this island?
—Since about 1867 or 1868.
20440. Were there no large sheep farms in Shetland before that?
—Yes, a few, but none in this island.
20441. You removed a good many people from the south side of Balta Sound?
20442. How many, do you remember?
—I don't remember; we removed some.
20443. Against their will?
—No, they went quite readily. There was a boat accident happened there, and a lot of men were lost, and people gave up their crofts; and then some others emigrated, and two or three gave them up and wanted to take a small place, and the place became almost vacant, and we removed the remainder.
20444. You have not removed any against their will?
20445. Or put them into a worse place than that they were in before?
—I don't think so. In fact we paid some of them for removing, and gave them lower rents in consequence.
20446. Perhaps your idea of a better place might be different from theirs?
—Of course it might.
20447. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—There is not one upon Balta Island now?
—No, and has not been for a couple of centuries.
20448. Is that part of your tack?
20449. The Chairman.
—You stated that you were lessee of the whole estate?
20450. So that you stand, in reference to the tenantry, very much in the position of a proprietor?
20451. The whole administration of the estate is left to you without any restriction?
20452. It is open to you to raise rents or diminish them, or shift tenants in holdings, or do anything you like?
—So far as that is concerned, I am in place of the proprietor.
20453. There is no restriction put upon your action?
—None in the least.
20454. Are you permanently interested in the welfare of the estate?
—I am the next heir after Mrs Edmonston.
20455. Professor Mackinnon.
—You said the fourth of Unst was in the hands of small proprietors?
—I think so.
20456. Do you know if there are any of them here to-day?
—Yes, I see one; not one I would apply the statement I made about the payment of poor rates to; but I see a gentleman here who has lately purchased land.
20457. Is he a native of the island?
—No, but he has been a long time in the island.
20458. Is he a native of Shetland?
20459. What is his name?-
—Mr Sandison, of Uyea Sound.
20460. The Chairman.
—Have you any other statement you wish to make?
—In regard to the statement of Robert Robertson, I would say he was turned off the mainland—I think he said he was put off for sheep. He was a moving blade. He moved several times of his own accord, and seemed never at rest. He was not put off; he asked to be moved, and took another croft, and he got what he thought a better bargain and went to it.
20461. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—He had only been five years there?
—I forget how long.
20462. The Chairman.
—What more? Another statement was that he was keeping a daughter and the family of a son-in-law, whereas the daughter and whole family have been kept by the parochial board, and I am not sure that they are not getting something yet.
—I wanted to state that, because it seemed rather hard that he was keeping a family of orphans, when he was not.
20463. Professor Mackinnon.
—He said he had to take charge of them and provide for them, but they are now doing work; at least, it implied that?
—It seemed to me that he was supposed to be keeping them. The only thing else I might say is with regard to the merk of land, as they are speaking so much about it. A merk is not measurement at all. It is a shene, an old Norse portion or share. In some towns a merk may not be an acre; in others it may be an acre, and in others it may be three. It is a most indefinite thing a merk.
20464. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—It was a value of land?
—Yes, a share.
20465. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—It is a portion of a town?
—Yes. There may be two townships of 100 merks each, and the one may measure 300 acres and the other not 100.
20466. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—It is the value at the time?
—Yes. And thus when scatholds are divided, they are divided according to the merks of land. One may hold twenty, another forty, and another ten, and so forth, and it is all divided into merks; a town having say 100, the whole is divided into l00ths, and each man gets so many hundredths per merk.
20467. Does the property descend here to the eldest son?
20468. Professor Mackinnon.
—A merk has a value with reference to the scathold ?
—Yes, and stipend; a great many things are paid by the merk; and some of the crown taxes are paid by merks also.