Baltasound, Unst, 16 July 1883 - Thomas Abernethy

THOMAS ABERNETHY, Pettester, Unst (60)—examined.

20142. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you been appointed a delegate in your locality?
—No, I came of my own accord. I never beard of the inquiry until this morning, and my neighbours were all away at the fishing and never heard of it at all.

20143. What have you to say?
—All I have to say is that my rent is more than double what it was when I came to the property.

20144. Who is your proprietor?
—Mr George Henderson, Burravoe, Yell.

20145. What was your rent?
—£2, 3s. 6d., and now it is £4, 14s., besides road monev and poor rates.

20146. What advantages did you get when this rise was put upon you?
—None at all.

20147. How long is it since the rent was raised?
—I came to this property at Martinmas 1845, and he has lifted the rent three times since.

20148. The same gentleman?
—Yes, the same gentleman.

20149. How many merks of land have you got?

20150. What stock have you at present?
—I could keep five cows; I have no ponies.

20151. Any sheep?
—About a dozen head.

20152. Are you by yourself, or is there a township around you?
—There are seven neighbours and myself.

20153. Were their rents all raised?

20154. And although you had no time to consult them, if they were here they would say the same?
—Oh, yes, they would say the same.

20155. Are your rents all the sime?
—No, they are not all the same. There is only one the same as mine, but it was all a general lift at the
same time.

20156. Have you got any scathold land?
—We have the hill property; we have it as we had it before.

20157. Your complaint here is really that the rents have been raised more than the place is worth?
—Yes, far more.

20158. Does you landlord live in the island?
—No, in Yell.

20159. Have you ever remonstrated with him against this rise?
—He won't lower them a bit; that is his talk.

20160. You must either pay the rent that or go?

20161. And you don't want to go?
—I don't know.

20162. And you don't want to pay the increased rent?
—It has been paid in time past.

20163. Are you a fisherman also9
—I have been a fisherman up to this year, but I am not fishing this year.

20164. How much meal do you require to buy in a year for your family?
—I had very few of a family.

20165. Do you require to buy anything at all?
—Oh, yes.

20166. How much on an average?
—Four bolls of the meal. But I had no family worth mentioning.

20167. Is that about the average you require to buy?
—I have only three of a family.

20168. But from year to year, is that the average?
—Some years I had hardly anything to buy at all.

20169. Do you crop the whole of your arable land?
—I cropped the whole of it this year.

20170. Had you some this year at fallow?
—This year I am giving up a lot of it.

20171. Do you mean leaving it to run out?
—No, my wife died last year, and I had to give it up to one of my neighbours.

20172. But, formerly, did you use to leave some of it fallow?
—No, I cropped it.

20173. Is the soil as productive now as it used to be?
—No, there is a great failure in the potatoes.

20174. But is the white crop as good as it used to be?
—Just about the same.

20175. Professor Mackinnon.
—In what direction do you lie from Burrafirth?
—About south-and by-west.

20176. Are you near the sea?
—It takes about an hour to go to Burrafirth from our place.

20177. And is it at Burrafirth your people fish?

20178. Is there much fishing there?
—This year only four boats.

20179. How is that?
—I don't know; they are leaving and going into big boats.

20180. And big boats don't suit Burrafirth?

20181. That is because of the wild beach?
—There is a great current outride, and it is a wicked place to get into.

20182. Where do your children go to school?
—Some to Burrafirth, and some come here to Mr White.

20183. That is a long way?
— Yes.

20184. But still they go?

20185. The young children don't go in winter?
—No, they are not fit.

20186. But the big ones do?
—When they come to fourteen they are not caring whether they go to school or not.

20187. I thought they cared to go to school?
—But the schoolmasters are not caring; the children are desired to go to school when they are not fit; and when they are fit, the schoolmaster don't care whether they go or not

20188. What do you think would be a suitable age for them to go to school to begin with?
—I think they are not fit for much schooling before they are seven or eight years old.

20189. And then they should be kept at school until they are fourteen or fifteen, would that be the proper age?
—Yes; for they are not fit, when they are so young, to travel through the snow without roads. There are places where there is no road at all; nothing but wild moors.

20190. Where do you get your stores.
—We have to get them from Balta Sound.

20191. How do you carry them?
—On our backs.

20192. There are plenty of ponies in the place^?
—Some have them, but a great many have none.

20193. But those who have them use them?
—Yes; but there are no ponies in our place except two belonging to one man.

20194 Do they use the ponies, where they have them, to plough land ?
—Yes, those who have big farms.

20195. How do they till the land in your place?
—We delve it all with a spade,

20196. Suppose you had your croft at the old rent, is it big enough to support your family?

20197. You must, therefore, depend for your living upon the sea?
—Generally. Only the proprietor has split every farm in two to increase it for fishermen, and that has made the holdings far too small.

20198. Is he a curer himself?
—He did cure, but he has given it up now.

20199. When did he give it up?
—About ten years ago.

20200. Has the rent been raised since that time?
—No; but it was raised before that.

20201. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Did you ever sell the wool of your sheep?
—Yes, several times.

20202. What did you get for it?
—I have had to buy for some time;
but when I was selling it, I got 8d. and 10d. and Is. a pound.

20203. What do you pay now?
—Last year we were paying Is. 6d. and 2s. for good wool.

20204. That is for Shetland wool?
—No, for Cheviot wool.

20205. And what would you pay for the old Shetland wool?
—I know it has been sold for Is. 2d.

20206. At the same time you were paying Is. 6d. for the wool of the big sheep. Then the wool of Shetland sheep is cheaper than that of the big sheep?
—It was cheaper.

20207. Was it cheaper last year?
—Yes; but this year I don't know what it is.

20208. From whom do you buy your wool?
—I bought some from Mr Hamilton this year,—blackfaced wool.

20209. And you paid Is. 6d.?
—No, not blackfaced wool. Cheviot wool is cheaper this year; Mr Edmonston has been selling it at Is.

20210. Mr Cameron.
—What do you do with the Cheviot wool when you get it?
—I never bought any of it.

20211. What did you do with the blackfaced?
—I sent it South and got stuff made with it.

20212. Has Mr Hamilton got a stock of blackfaced sheep?

20213. What did you pay for the blackfaced wool?
—I could not say; I have not settled for it

20214. Do you know what you will have to pay for it?
—-I could not tell; he is here.

20215. But haven't you some idea of the price?
—Well, Mr Edmonston sold some Cheviot wool this year for Is.

20216. But I am talking of what you have bought, —have you no idea of what you will have to pay?
—I think it will be about 7d. per lb. for blackfaced wool.

20217. The sheep which you keep are small Shetland sheep?

20218. Would your land keep a better class of sheep—bigger sheep?
—No, it is not adopted for that, it is heathery hills.

20219. Is there any land in your neighbourhood adopted for that?

20220. Not even blackfaced sheep?
—Yes; but Shetland sheep are the hardiest.

20221. At what age do you sell Shetland sheep?
—They are generally kept until we cannot keep them longer.

20222. You allow them to die of old age?
—The greater part of them died of old age some time back we keep them until they are eight or ten or twelve years ago.

20223. Is not that a rather primitive mode of farming?
—They were always kept for their lambs and their wool.

20224. When they sold them at all, what price did they get for them, and to whom did they sell them?
—Just one neighbour to the other.

20225. What price did they get?
—7s. for a Shetland ewe—they thought that a good price—and 5s. and 2s. 6d. for a lamb.

20226. And for a wether sheep?
—They could be somewhat dearer.

20227. How much?
—I have seen them sold at 8s. and 9s.

20228. Have you no idea what the value of a blackfaced sheep would be?

20229. Did you ever inquire as to whether it would not be more profitable to keep a breed of blackfaced sheep?

20230. Supposing you were told that a blackfaced wether, after keeping it so long, would sell for about £2, would you think that a profitable bargain?
—I do not know, I am sure; blackfaced sheep are things we are not much used to; we have always had the old Shetland sheep.

20231. But, apparently, Mr Hamilton has a breed of blackfaced sheep?

20232. Is his land much better than the land you have?
—His is a farm laid down for sheep.

20233. Are you aware that in Scotland crofters who hold the same quantity of land, as you do, keep a breed of blackfaced sheep and sell. them at the market prices, whatever they may be?
—I don't know.

20234. Don't you think it would be worth while to inquire whether you could not raise sheep, and which would sell for £2 rather than 7s.?
—It would be, if we had only the property to raise them on.

20235. Does anybody in the island keep blackfaced sheep except Mr Hamilton?
—Yes, Mr Edmonston.

20236. Do they seem to answer?
—They are hardy animals.

20237. Do you see any reason why they should not be introduced into Shetland ?
—Because the wool of them is awful coarse.

20238. But if you can make as much as I have stated off the carcase would not that compensate for the inferior quality of the wool?
—Yes; I should say the one would pay up what the other wanted.

20239. You said your wife had died and that you had to give up some of the land; what did you mean by that?
—I could not get it managed; I could not get people to work, because they are getting scarce.

20240. Who did you give up the land to?
—I told it off to my master.

20241. You gave it up to your master?

20242. By what did he reduce the rent?
—I do not pay the half now, because I am not using the half; but I only have it for one year.

20213. And do you get back the rest of the land next year?
—No; I am going to give it all up, because I cannot manage it.

20244. What are you to do with yourself?
—1 do not know. I will have to try and go to another country.

20215. Will you try and take land at a less rent?
—No, a bare man has no need to take a farm now unless he has a family.

20216. Have many of your neighbours got leases for their lands?
—None have got leases at all.

20217. What are the poor rates and school rates?
—About 2s., I think, in the £.

20218. For each?
—For poor rates and school rates.

20219. That is the tenant's share?

20250. Four shillings between landlord and tenant?
—Yes; and we pay 6d. in the £for road money, and there are no roads at all.

20251. Is there any road in the island?
—There is, in the island, but not to our place.

20252. Sheriff Nicolson.
—How far are you from the high road?
—A couple of miles.

20253. Do you bring your goods from Balta Sound?

20254. On your backs?

20255. How many miles is it from this place?
—Five miles.

20256. The Chairman.
—What of the three kinds of wool—blackfaced, Cheviot, or Shetland wool.—makes the best cloth or clothes for the use of the working people?
—The Shetland wool is said to be the best; the softest.

20257. Do many of the people still make their clothes of the pure Shetland wool?
—Yes, a great many of them used to have it, but now they cannot get it manufactured in this island. There are no weavers in this island—not one.

20258. Do none of the womeu weave?
—No, unless working stockings and shawls.

20259. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Did they use to weave?

20260. Where did they get their cloth woven formerly?
—Here amongst the Shetland people themselves.

20261. Was it the men or the women who did the weaving?
—The men.

20262. Mr Cameron.
—Why did you buy blackfaced wool to make cloth, if the Shetland wool makes the best?
—Because I had not enough of it. I bought blackfaced and mixed it, and that made it, at least, a little better.

20263. If you could have got Shetland wool, would you have preferred it?

20261. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many weavers do you recollect in your young days?

20265. All in constant employment?
—They always were in the winter, but not much in the summer.

20266. Professor Mackinnon
—What became of them?
—Some of them died and some gave it up.

20267. It would not do?
—No; 2d. a yard was what they charged, and that would not pay them.

20268. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—And what do you pay in the South for it?
—2s. last year.

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