ALEXANDER INKSTER (29)—examined.
21655. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie,
—In what capacity are you here?
—I am in the employment of Messrs Garriock & Co, as manager, at Raewick.
21656. For what purpose do you happen to be here?
—Just now, for the purpose of settling with the fishermen and tenants, I am appointed by the factor to collect rents due at November last. They are generally collected at the end of June.
21657. You are acting for the factor as well as Garriock & Co.?
21658. Will you make your statement please?
—Yes. The prices paid for green fish last summer were,—ling, 8s. 6d., cod, 7s., tusk, 6s. Fish are bought here at the same prices as are paid on the mainland. The fishermen are not bound to deal with or sell their fish to Messrs Garriock & Co., and never have been. They are at perfect liberty to sell to whom they choose. With regard to the shop goods, Mr Gear's statements are simply incorrect. The rates charged here are the same as at Raewick, with the exception of the meal, to which 6d. or Is. per boll is added to cover freight. It never exceeds Is., and sometimes it is 6d. The cheapest meal sold here is Indian meal, of which the price is 14s. and 15s. per boll, and for oatmeal from Scotch oats 21s. is the price charged; it varies, however. It was stated also that tobacco was sold at 5s. 10d. per lb. Now 5s. is the price, only we get a specially prepared kind for keeping in winter, for which we have to pay considerably more. It is made to keep four or five months in winter, when there is no communication with the mainland, and for that tobacco we charge 5s. 10d.; but the ordinary tobacco is sold at 5s. Messrs Garriock & Co. have more than once offered to take cattle over to the mainland, and expose them for sale at the half yearly sale at Walls, and to pay the islanders the price realised, less the freight and cost of the sale; but they prefer to sell on the island, and save risk, &c. Yearly some of the cattle bought are sold in the island without any addition being made to the price paid. The landlord or factor does not bind the people to sell to Messrs Garriock & Co. nor do Messrs Garriock & Co. interfere in any way with the people buying and selling, nor exercise any control over the tenants and fishermen, other than as merchants dealing with customers. With reference to the eggs, generally Id. per dozen less is paid than the price given on the mainland. The shells of the eggs here are thinner and more liable to breakage, and of course the irregular communication in the winter time often leads to the eggs being stale before we get them.
21659. What do you pay on the mainland in winter?
—The price varies from 7d and 8d., to as high as 9d. for a short time.
21660. But it is not 7d. and 8d. here?
—Yes, it is down to 4d., and 5d. just now at Reawick, and 4d. here, of course it varies. The cause of the thinness of the eggshell is the want of lime on the island. With regard to the rents, the rent book in my possession, dates from 1875, from which time I am not aware that any of the rents have been raised, with the exception of Mr Gear's which was £2 up to two years ago, and which was £3. 5s. last settlement.
—[Mr Gear]. I only paid for half a croft, as schoolmaster here; that is the £2 you refer to; the rest, the laird of Melby gave gratis to the teacher.
—[Mr Inkster]. Yes, but its more than two years since you resigned. The average rent value of the croft is £3 , 10s.
21661. How many crofts are there altogether?
—Thirty-eight crofts, at £3, 10s. each. The total rental, including sheep, is £140. Only ten of the thirty-eight crofters, were due balances in the rent book last year, and five of those were under £3 at last year's balancing.
21662. There are ponies kept here?
—Yes, the proprietor keeps a few; it is the only right he retains to himself. There are eight to ten
generally; that is the number he does not like to exceed. But sometimes, with younger beasts, it may come up to twelve or so.
21663. Do you never pay, in winter time, Is. per dozen for eggs?
—No, the price never exceeds 9d. at Reawick.
21664. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—According to your statement the people in Foula have no complaint to make about their rents?
—I consider not, comparing them with those of other places; of course, their isolated position is against them.
21665. Then why do you make the statement that the rents have not been raised—what object have you in making it?
—Because I think, Mr Gear said the rents were raised.
21666. Did you not hear the chorus of concurrence that all the complaints were on account of the rents?
21667. Do you think that represented the feeling of the people or not?
—Perhaps it did.
21668. But you think otherwise, that they have no cause of complaint?
—Well, compared with the mainland, and taking into consideration the unlimited right to scathold, I don't think they have.
21669. How many places of business have your company in Shetland ?
—Shops at Reawick, Sandness, and Foula —three shops, and several fishing stations along the west coast from Scalloway as far as Sandness.
21670. Do your employers find it worth while to do business in Foula?
—Yes, taking all together.
21671. They make a considerable profit out of it?
—Not considerable, but perhaps a working profit sufficient to induce them to keep it open. With bad seasons it is very questionable; but Garriock & Co. have always kept it on.
21672. What was their object in putting out a paper wanting the people to say whether or not they wished them to remain?
—The people were dissatisfied, I understand, at that time with the prices they were receiving, and they got the option of curing for themselves.
21673. Are the prices given now better than those given ten or twelve years ago?
—They vary —sometimes better, sometimes worse.
21674. Are most of the people in your books, in debt?
—Not the most of them.
21675. Of the thirty-eight families how many may be indebted to your firm?
—I am not prepared to say exactly, but I should say, perhaps a dozen.
21676. Only a dozen; and all the rest are perfectly independent?
—Several of them are.
21677. Supposing the fishing here, were paid for in money, how are the people to use it. Is there any bank?
—Fishing is such a precarious business that a man has a little this year, and next year he may have to use it all up.
21678. What does he do with it —does he keep it at home, or put it in a bank, or leave it with the firm?
—Sometimes he leaves it with the firm.
21679. And the firm act as bankers?
21680. You stated there was no monopoly of the fish—that they might sell to whom they choose—but can anybody else put up a shop or keep such a place without the landlord's permission?
—I am not aware that there is anything to hinder them.
21681. Where does the landlord live?
—He is at Melby, but the factor lives at Reawick.
21682. Where does the proprietor live?
—At Melby, Reawick.
21683. Does he ever come here?
—Sometimes, he is under age, and cannot yet interfere.
21684. Has this island belonged to the same family for a long time?
—So far as I know.
21685. What does the proprietor do for the island, can you tell me? Can you mention one single sixpence which he lays out for any purpose whatever?
—He provides a certain sum towards the building of houses.
21686. That is the condition of the country with regard to the matter of land; but does he lay out anything—can you point out anything he does?
—I am not aware at this moment.
21687. Will you give us any explanation about the complaint which one or two delegates made, that they are paying for manse repairs in Walls, a thing that occurred some twelve or twenty years ago. Can you explain why they are still paying these ecclesiastical assessments?
—I have been looking back in the book which I have in my possession. It only dates back to 1875, and I find no allusion to manse assessment in the rent book. The rent is stated at the same sum.
21688. Supposing what they say were true that this rent was put on for the purpose of defraying ecclesiastical assessment, would it not be right to take it off if the assessment has been repaid?
—I should say so for my own part; if the place is really over rented, that is to say. But it is not entered in their rents as assessment.
21689. Do you think it is a satisfactory state of things in the island for the people to be all dependent on one man —the landlord—who can turn them off next year, and upon your firm to whom they are indebted for the necessaries of life?
—It is the same with them as with those in Shetland and other islands where you have been; it is not for me to express an opinion.
21690. Supposing you were proprietor of the place, and only got that small rent, would you keep it?
—It would scarcely be worth keeping, considering the taxes.
21691. Supposing the people were willing to buy portions of it would it not be wise to give it to the people of the place, and let them find their own way in the world?
—Yes, I think so.
21692. Would it not be much better if they could buy the island themselves?
—Yes, I think so.
21693. Have you anything to say about the development of the fisheries, or the advantages that might follow to the islanders from it?
—No doubt, if a better harbour could be made, the place might become a very important fishing station. I understand there is plenty of herring fishing round the island all the year, and the fishermen are aware of that.
21694. And so far as you are aware, you have reason to believe it is quite correct?
—I believe it is.
21695. And although it is at present rather inaccessible in the way of landing, the distance is not so great as to make the place out of the world altogether?
21696. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You stated that Messrs Garriock offered to take the cattle over to the mainland and let the people have the price, less the freight? What evidence have you that he did so?
—Mr Garriock told me.
22697. To whom did he make this offer?-
—To the people ; and I think those present can confirm it ; and I am sure Messrs Garriock would make the same offer now—to take the cattle over, and charge freight only.
—[Mr Gear]. I am here to say not a man ever heard it.
—[Severed Inlanders]. I never heard of it.
21698. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Well, the offer is made now. With regard to the paper issued by Messrs Garriock, you are, perhaps, aware that some dozen years ago there was a prospect of Messrs Garriock leaving the island, and they then said they must have the whole trade or none, and they sent a paper round to the people to know whether they wished them to remain; one condition of their remaining being that they should have the whole trade; and the people agreed that they should remain; have Messrs Garriock given any indication that they have departed from that?
—[Mr Inkster]. Not that I am aware of.
21699. The condition is that they are to have the whole trade?
—Yes, without the whole trade of the island it would be worthless.
21700. But, just now you said they were free?
—Yes, in the event of their dividing the trade, Messrs Garriock & Co. would probably withdraw.
21701. Professor Mackinnon.
—That is the nature of the freedom?
—If the business could not be kept on they would withdraw.