ROBERT ROBERTSON, Crofter, West Myres, Scraefield, Unst (74)—examined.
20021. The Chairman.
—Were you a fisherman?
—No, I was always upon the land.
20022. When did you hear that the Commission were to be here?
—Not until yesterday; but we had heard before that you were coming.
20023. Who gave notice to you?
—Some of our folk were here and heard it when they heard the sermon.
20024. Had you any meeting of the people to send anybody here?
—No, they just told me you were coming, and I thought I would come down.
20025. Are there any others here from your place?
—Yes, two men.
20026. How many families are there in your place?
—I have but a small patch of hill ground. I have been driven out twice by sheep farms, and had to take a bit of barren hill because I had nowhere else to go.
20027. What rent do you pay?
—£6 of rent for sixteen acres of hill ground—very barren ground.
20028. Who is your laird?
—George Henderson, who stops in Burravoe.
20029. Have you no arable land?
20030. Are you not able to raise any crop?
—No, very little; it is bad soil.
20031. What stock do you keep?
—Two cows, three ponies, and I think three head of sheep. I had plenty of sheep, but I have no place
to keep them now.
20032. When were you removed to your present place?
—I was driven out about nine years ago.
20033. Why was that done?
—Because they took the place for sheep farming.
20034. What farm was made out of the place you were in?
20035. Were there many other families removed besides yourself?
20036. Where were they sent to?
—I don't know; they had to shift for themselves.
20037. Have they found places in this parish?
—- Yes, except one man who went with his family to America.
20038. Did the laird find any place for them himself?
—I could not say. One man got a place from him, and perhaps two.
20039. Did they get new houses when they were removed?
—No, there were houses there before.
20040. Was there a house where you went to?
—No, I had all to do.
20041. Had you a house to build?
—No, but I had all the rest to manage.
20042. Did the landlord build the house for you—a good house?
—Yes, a good house; I wanted a good house.
20043. Is it the same landlord now?
20044. Who is your laird now?
—Mr Henderson. It was Mr Robert Edmonston's property I was removed from.
20045. Was there a sheep farm there before?
—No, there was no sheep farm there before. There were sheep on the common pasture, but they all had to be turned away. I had sixty head of sheep, but 1 had to put them away because I had no room for them.
20046. What rent had you to pay?
—50s, I was on another bit of ground when I was driven off the first time by sheep.
20047. Were you removed more than once?
20048. Where were you removed from first?
—I removed first from Balasta, where I had fourteen merks of land.
20049. Who was your landlord there?
20050. How long ago was that?
—Between fourteen and fifteen years.
20051. How long had you been in your first place?
—Five years; but I was five years in another place, and Mr Edmonston's before that.
20052. Were you removed from Balasta, that your land might go into a sheep farm?
—Yes, I went out for that.
20053. Were there many other people also removed at that time?
—No; I went of my own goodwill from there, because it was a dear rent and very little for it, and I thought I would improve another piece of ground and make a living out of it, but I was driveu out. I thought I would get a lease, but I did not.
20054. What is your complaint here to day?
—I have been badly handled and driven out.
20055. That you have been removed from a good place to a bad place against your will?
20056. What would you like to get now?
—I should like to get my rent down, for I pay far too much. The one half would be too much, but I was forced to take it. But my lease is up now. I had a seven years' lease, and it is up two years ago. I was to come to some agreement as to the rent, but he never came to me, and I did not go to him.
20057. You think the rent ought to be reduced a half at least?
—I think so.
20058. Of course you have to buy all you need?
—I had a family when I was driven out by the sheep farm, and I had a daughter left with four helpless children, and she had no place to go.
20059. Are you able to support your family?
—I am supporting myself and am due nobody; but I am getting unfit for work now.
20060. The Chairman.
—How many animals do you keep?
—Two cows and three ponies, and three sheep, I think, if they are living.
20061. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Did you get any compensation when you were turned out?
20062. Who got the place when you left?
—It was occupied as a sheep farm.
20063. What was the name of the farm?
—Roe was the last place.
20061. Who was the tenant of it?
20065. Had he it in his own hands?
—He had the management of it at any rate. It was set to another man.
20066. Who was the other man?
—Mr Sievwright, who stopped in Lerwick.
20067. Were you well off when you were in that place?
—Yes, I was very well off; it was the best place I was ever in.
20068. Was it not a very useful thing in the country to have a lot of the small Shetland sheep?
—It was that. I have seen me taking ten lambs in a night, and killing them. Was not that useful? But now we have nothing.
20069. Was it not an advantage to the population generally, apart from the farmer and crofter, the native wool could be bought for the purpose of spinning?
—Oh, yes; it was a great advantage; it was all woollen clothes then and now the people have to buy clothes.
20070. Was it not an advantage to the people of Shetland generally, apart from the crofters, that they could purchase the native wool for the purpose of knitting and selling the goods?
—Almost the whole of them had wool of their own without buying.
20071. Is it much more difficult now for people living in towns like Lerwick, to buy native wool for the purpose of knitting?
—I believe it is, because in Shetland people are all in the same way.
20072. Are you not aware that the demand for Shetland produce of the native wool is rather increasing, although the supply is diminishing?
—-They can get all they have use for.
20073. You are an old man and have been here all your days?
20074. Have a great number of small tenants been removed in your lifetime from their crofts, for the purpose of making big farms?
—Yes, plenty; it is only of late that the sheep farming came into this island.
20075. Has the introduction of sheep farming been for the benefit of the small tenants and crofters who were there before?
—Oh, no; not for the benefit of the small tenants.
20076. Has the production of corn diminished a good deal since the sheep farms were begun?
—Oh, yes; now there is no corn where the sheep farms are; the farms were taken away and occupied by the sheep; most of this island is occupied by sheep farms.
20077. Is the population getting less?
—The population is away.
20078. The men have gone to far foreign lands, and left the country altogether?
—They had nowhere to go to.
20079. Are you acquainted with Balta Sound?
—I am well acquainted about Balta Sound.
20080. Is there a name to the bay where the wreck took place ?
20081. Between Balta Sound and Haroldswick, were there not a great number of tenants?
—No; there is no sheep farming there to put them away.
20082. Is there not a great number of ruined houses between this and Haroldswick?
20083. I think I saw a lot yesterday?
—Well, but there is nothing now of what there was of tenants, because some of those to whom the property belonged failed and are away. But the two houses I had were taken in by the landlord and made a bigger farm of.
20084. How many houses or people were put away to make the farm between this and Haroldswick?
—I could not say; there are five or six houses.
20085. Were they not very good houses?
—Just fair houses, I believe. I heard no complaint about them.
20086. Were the people who were there well off?
—They were not ill off. They were always turning money round; they were active people, and did well enough.
20087. I did not see anything there yesterday but a lot of ponies?
—I believe that; most of them all died away.
20088. Do they keep any cows, or nothing but ponies there?
—They keep cows too; but there is only one little house, with some slate upon it, next the hill; that has two cows, unless the big house.
20089. What do you call the big house?
20090. Do the people like yourself, who have been removed, complain very much of having been removed from their holdings?
—They have complained very much indeed, because it put them to a great deal of trouble and a worse bargain than where they-were, and that was why they complained.
20091. Who is Mr Henderson?
—He does not belong to this island, but he has property in it.
20092. He is your present proprietor?
20093. And you have no complaint against him, except that your land is too highly rented?
—No, he has not disturbed me in any way.
20094. Are you complaining of your rents?
—Yes, I had been complaining of my rent, and he said he would come down somewhat, but he has not said what it was to be.
20095. Are your neighbours complaining of the rent?
—No, I do not think they have much cause, because there are two or three places like mine which are 30s. or 35s.
20096. And you are obliged to pay the rent you do because you could not get another place?
—Yes; but I am at liberty now, because my lease is up.
20097. Would you rather have a lease than be without one?
—No; I would not take a lease at the rent.