Foula, 18 July 1883 - Robert Gear

ROBERT GEAR, Catechist (50)—examined.
(See Appendix A, LIII.)

21353. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—You are catechist at Foula in connection with the Established Church?

21354. How long have you been catechist here?
—I will have been eleven years in the island in November.

21355. Did the people of Foula know that this Commission was coming here?
—Yes, it was explained to them.

21356. Did they elect anybody to represent them?
—Yes; they elected another person and me to represent them, but the other man is not here.

21357. Will he be here to-day?
—I think not; but there is one here, David Hendry, to take his place.

21358. Who is the man who was elected along with you ?
—Andrew Robertson, but he told me on Sabbath that he would not be here.

21359. Have you got any statement to make?
—Yes. Several meetings were held, and at one of these on 12th June Mr Morrison submitted a statement which he had prepared as directed by a previous meeting.
—The meeting discussed and adopted the statement, paragraph by paragraph, and thereafter cordially and unanimously adopted it as a faithful expression of their wishes, and having signed it, directed the delegates to lay said statement before the Royal Commission.

Statement by the Crofters in the island of Foula to the Royal Commission Highlands and Islands.
The statement is as follows
—1. This island lies out in the Atlantic about sixteen miles from the mainland of Shetland. All is owned by R. F. C. Scott, Esq. of Melby, and Mr James Garriock, Reawick, is factor. The population is 275 and the number of crofts 40.
2. We would respectfully submit that our rents are excessive and out of all proportion either to the value of what the soil can produce or to the value of land in the rich farming districts of Scotland. We are unable to state the exact sum paid by each of us as rent, as the public burdens (poor, school, &c. rates) are collected along with the rent, and we get no receipts, but as nearly as we can calculate the best portion of the isle is rented at over 25s. an acre for arable land (including right to hill pasture). The soil is very poor and exhausted, and owing to the peculiar position of the island a large part of the crop is often either blasted by the sea or shaken and destroyed by violent gales. We have calculated that on an average our crops do not provide us in bread for more than from four and a half to five months in the year; all the rest we must buy. In recent years rents have fallen in Scotland; here no man ever heard of rent decreasing. It has been rising, rising, rising for generations. Whenever church or manse repairs are executed in Walls there is an increase of rent all over the Melby estate to cover the cost, and this remains till the next repairs are called for when increase No. 2 is made in addition to increase No. 1. The manse of Walls was built about 1867. Most of us have paid 10s. a year since towards its cost, and there is no indication of the charge ceasing. There is no work to be had in the island, we must depend on the sea for our (often precarious enough) means of existence; and we respectfully submit that it is entirely unjust for us to be charged rents which our crofts cannot produce, but which must be fished out of the sea. Even were our rents more equitable we should still be placed at a disadvantage —our situation compelling us to sell in the cheapest and buy in the dearest market.'

21360. It is stated that you have to buy in the dearest and sell in the cheapest market: can you explain that?
—If you will allow me to read this paper it will explain it :
—(a) The whole trade of the island is a monopoly in the hands of the merchants, Messrs Garriock & Co., and the inhabitants in consequence do not enjoy the benefits of competition, and although most industrious, are kept in a state of hopeless poverty,
(b) The want of fixity of tenure perpetuates this system by deterring competitors,
(c) The want of a proper mail service retards the development of the resources of the island. A small packet about fourteen tons burden, at present, carries the mail from Garderhouse, near Raewick, instead of from the post office at Walls, which is not much over half the distance. She ought to visit the island once a fortnight, but it frequently happens that there is no communication between Foula and the outside world for perhaps two months at a time; and last spring the inhabitants were obliged (as the packet was unable to cross) to go for supplies to the mainland in one of their own six-oared boats.
(d) The want of a harbour (which qualified men say could be constructed without difficulty and at a comparative small outlay) is also a great obstacle to the prosecution of the herring and other fishing industries for which the island is so well adapted; " and also as a place of refuge, and consequent welfare of the peopla
(e) The continued charge for building the manse at Walls of which the parish of Foula forms a part, and the cost of which, we believe, should have been defrayed long ago, from the revenue derivable from church lands.
This statement was prepared independently of the other, as 1 did not know but what I should have to
send it to the Commissioners. The statement which I was reading before goes on to say

—3. Eviction has never been resorted to here, although we are tenants at will. For a long time our landlords have been of a good type, and the factors as sympathetic and forbearing as possible; but we cannot tell how soon changes may come, and we respectfully submit that our tenure should be secured by something more permanent than the good disposition of a factor, who may soon be removed, or a landlord who is not exempt from the changes and end of life.
4. As tenants we have nothing but praise to give to the present factor; he has ever been considerate and merciful, and as islanders we owe much to the merchants for whom we fish—Messrs Garriock & Co. of Reawick. Whether we are in debt or not they always supply us with the necessaries of life, and they have done so in cases where there was little probability that they would ever be paid. We regret that so; many of us are getting more indebted and less able to pay our way year by year.
5. Without taking up more of the time of the Commissioners we would respectfully offer the following practical suggestions for the bettering of our condition. Some of these would be mainly for our benefit, but the others would, in our opinion, be largely for the public advantage :—
(a) That a substantial reduction be made on existing rents.
(b) That the power of eviction be curtailed by leases or otherwise, and that compensation be given for tenant's improvements
(c) That the attention of the Government be called to our very unsatisfactory and independable mail service, to the necessity for employing a more suitable vessel, and for making Walls the port of departure instead of Garderhouse. (The former is much nearer Foula).
(d) That in the interests, not only of the island, but of the national fisheries (particularly white fish and herring) so advantageously situated a fishing station as Foula should be turned to account by the construction of a harbour.
(e) That in the interests of the fishing, and for the safety of the mercantile marine, a lighthouse should be erected here.'
—THOMAS X GRAY, Dykes, and by twenty-eight others.

21361. Do Messrs Garriock give a less price for the fish and articles of produce than you would get elsewhere?
—They do.

21362. Can you give any idea of the difference in prices?
—I am not a fisherman.

21363. You are a crofter, do you sell cattle?

21364. To Messrs Garriock?

21365. Have you any idea whether you would get better prices by selling elsewhere than to them?
—Yes, much larger. Cattle sold this last year on the mainland realised at least a third—perhaps a half more than those sold on the island. There is no opposition here, and we must sell according to the price Messrs Garriock's cattle dealer will give.

21366. Do Messrs Garriock charge you very highly for the goods they keep in the shop?
—The goods are very high.

21367. Can you give any instances in which they are very much higher than the prices on the mainland?
—I think meal is generally 3s. to 4s. higher per boll than on the mainland at Scalloway.

21368. What has been the price of meal here this last year?
—I think 22s. per boll.

21369. But it has been 20s. 6d. lately, has it not?
—About a month ago it was 21s. per boll.

21370. You have been here eleven years; it is about that time since Messrs Garriock proposed to abandon the shop here, and sent a circular round?
—I was not here, but I heard about it.

21371. Do you remember that at that time the people did not wish this monopoly to be given up?
—No, they signed Mr Garriock's paper to fish to him.

21372. Why did they do that if they wished the monopoly broken up?
—Because the poor people have been so long insolvent that they are afraid to oppose the landlord or factor or whoever it might be.

21373. Messrs Garriock stated at the time that the trade in Foula was so small that unless they had the whole of it, it would not pay them to have a place here at all; and they were willing, they said, that the inhabitants of Foula should make their own arrangements for disposing of their produce and buying supplies. They asked the people which they wished, and it is said the people signed to a man in favour of Messrs Garriock continuing the trade?
—I believe that is so, but I was not here.

21374. Are you of opinion that if Messrs Garriock: were to withdraw the shop, and have nothing to do with the trade, the people could find an outlet for the sale of their produce?
—Certainly, I am of that opinion; there would be competition directly, and the people would get the same advantages as on the mainland.

21375. You think somebody else would take up the store?
—I think so; and the people would be paid in cash for the fish and cattle, and could buy the same as on the mainland. There would be perhaps, two or three shops, and competition would bring down the price of goods.

21376. You are of opinion that if Messrs Garriock gave up the shop other people would establish shops?
—Certainly; but we have no objection to the Messrs Garriock. Wre ought to be thankful for what they have done for us, and acknowledge their kindness with gratitude; but we should not let this chance pass us.

21377. If the trade were thrown open to competition, Messrs Garriock said ten or eleven years ago, they would give up the trade ?
—I think that would be a great benefit.

21378. Do you think that is the opinion of the people of Foula?
—I think that is the general opinion.
[Mr Morrison, Pastor of the Congregational Church.]
—No, sir.
[Several Voices] I don't think that is the voice of the people.
Mr Gear.
That is the private voice of the people; they may tell you what they like.?

21379. You state in the paper you have given in, that you have to buy in the dearest and sell in the cheapest market; was that paragraph discussed at the meeting?
—It was.

21380. What was the opinion of the people as to remedying that state of matters?
—That paragraph was-not discussed at the meeting.

21381. It was not discussed?
—No. I took objection to the next paragraph; it was contradictory.

21382. The paragraph I was asking about was the one in which you say that your situation compels you to sell in the cheapest and buy in the dearest market?
—It was not discussed.

21383. Who wrote the statement you have produced?
—Mr Morrison who presided at the meeting.

21384. You think the state of matters complained of might be remedied?
—I think so. I have had large experience of Shetland, I am a native of the country and am a crofter. I have thorough knowledge of the working of the crofter system in Shetland.

21385. Do you know what is paid for meal at present?
—I am not sure; Mr Inkster, the clerk, is here, and will be able to tell.

21386. What size of harbour would it be possible to make here?
—I think a small boat harbour could be made here at small cost. The lighthouse ship was here recently, and Mr Stevenson, who was on board was looking for a site for a lighthouse, which is of great importance in Foula, and I heard that he expressed the opinion that a harbour could be constructed at a very moderate cost.

21387. A harbour would do a great deal towards the improvement of the island.

21388. Is it a particularly good situation for fishing?
—It is a fine place for fishing.

21389. Would other fishermen come here?
—If they had a harbour.

21390. They are nearer the fishing ground here than elsewhere?
—Much nearer.

21391. Are vessels often wrecked in this neighbourhood?
—We often see vessels passing here in a very poor condition, but owing to the position of the island, and the strong currents, the vessels are swept round. It would not matter how many vessels were wrecked on the island, we would never see anything; two or three vessels might go down in a night, and nothing ever be seen of them.

21392. Do you think vessels are endangered by the want of a lighthouse?
—I think so.

21393. Foula is a high island and easily seen, is it not?
—Yes, but the danger is in the long winter nights,—vessels driving down here from the North Coast of Scotland. Last year we saw one go down without being able to give any assistance.

21394. Mr Cameron.
—How many crofters are there here?

21395. What rent do they pay on an average?
—I suppose about £4.

21396. The total rental of the island according to the valuation roll is £140, that would be rather less than £4 each?
—Perhaps it may be £4 with rates.

21397. What amount of arable land has each of these crofters?
—Between three to four acres.

21398. What stock do they keep?
—As a rule they will keep seven old and young animals.

21399. Of all sorts ?
—Of cattle.

21400. Is the summer grazing of these animals included in the rent of £4 paid for arable ground?

21401. Do you think that a high rent as compared with places on the mainland of Shetland?
—I cannot say so much about the rent. I know about the mainland of Shetland, and I don't think the rents are excessive considering everything. But there is this peculiar to Foula, that the crops are liable to be destroyed by the sea and by violent gales; and these years, I think the landlord should consider and make an allowance to their poor tenants.

21402. I suppose the principal grievance is the raising of rents in consequence of the repairs on the church and manse, from which the people of Foula derive no benefit?
—1 think so, so far as the rent is concerned.

21403. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—The islanders have no leases of the land?

21404. The people are left entirely to the will of the proprietor?

21405. So that the people might be put out next Wednesday?

21406. Has that a tendency to discourage the improvement of the crofts?
—I am certain it has.

21407. With reference to the expression about buying in the dearest market, are you aware that that is the very opposite of free trade?

21408. Does it come to this, that when you want to buy anything in the shop you must pay whatever the merchant chooses to ask?

21409. And when you want to sell a beast you must take what he pleases to give?
— Yes.

21410. And you want to throw the business of the island open to the world?

21411. If any one were to set up in business as a merchant, do you think he would get any encouragement to do so from the proprietor or factor?
—I don't think so, but the reverse.

21412. You are under a gross monopoly in these days of free trade?
—We are.

21413. Could the fishing be very much developed if there was a harbour made, and the island thrown open to the world?
—Very much.

21414. Are the people of Foula enterprising when they get a chance?
—They are a very active and industrious people.

21415. You think, so far as you can make out, that the average rent per acre is 25s.?
—I think so, as far as I can make out.

21416. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Are there any whose rents are higher than £4?
—Yes, there are some, I believe, who pay more than that including taxes.

21417. What is the lowest rent paid by anybody in the island?
—£2 is the lowest, and £5 is the highest inclusive of rates.

21418. What is the greatest amount of stock anybody is allowed to keep, or can keep?
—There is no limit, they can keep as many as they can; the pasture is common and some keep more and some less.

21419. Everybody here has one or more cows?
—Yes, two or three cows—small beasts.

21420. What is the average number of cows kept?
—I think three cows besides young ones.

21421. And of sheep?
—I cannot say what the average number of sheep may be, perhaps half a dozen.

21422. What is the largest number of sheep any one person has?
—Some fifty or sixty, and others, perhaps, may have none at all.

21423. The same as in the parish of North Mavin?
—I fancy so.

21424. Anybody may keep 50 or 100 sheep?
—Yes, or none, if they cannot get them.

21425. And those who have the larger pay no more than the others?
—No more.

21426. Has that been customary on the island from time immemorial ?
—So far as I know. There was a time on the island when they used to fish for single rent, so many fish paid the rent.

21427. Do you keep horses also?
—No; the proprietor has a few horses, but none of the inhabitants are allowed to keep them.

21428. Would horses be of use to you?
—They would.

21429. For what purposes?
—To carry home turf, and for other purposes.

21430. You would not use them for ploughing?
—We might.

21431. On the mainland of Shetland they do all the turning of the soil with the spade?
—Yes, we have to carry the turf from here to the other end of the island on our backs.

21432. Has it been the practice always to turn the turf with spades?

21433. What kind of soil is it?
—Peat or a clay soil.

21434. What crop grows best here?
—No crop grows well; I don't know which is best.

21435. Don't you raise good potatoes?
—No, they are of poor quality.

21436. What is the best return of oats you can get in a good season?
—I suppose three or fourfold.

21437. Do you raise any white crop other than oats?
—Nothing but bere.

21438. Your peats are abundant ?

21439. And they are convenient to you?
—Yes; in some parts of the island they have to come here for them.

21440. Is it the women or the men who carry the peats?
—Both, but mostly the men.

21441. All the hard work is not put on the women?

21442. Are the women also all engaged in knitting?

21443. Out of the native wool?
—Out of the native wool.

21444. What kind of hosiery is made mostly in the island?
—Principally small shawls and stockings.

21445. Of a common kind, or fine?
—Coarse; none of the fine shawls.

21446. Are these goods taken from them by Messrs Garriock'?

21447. They don't sell anything out of the island to anybody else?
—Sometimes they do; if they go out with their boats for fishing, the women may go and take what they have ready to the mainland.

21448. Is any wool sold out of the island?

21449. It is all used in the island?
—Yes, as a rule.

21450. Have you any sheep in the island except natives?
—Yes, the native breed is almost out.

21451. What wool is chiefly used?
—Blackfaced principally; they have been crossed with blackfaced; we have a bad quality of wool.

21452. The whole of the island is in the occupation of the inhabitants?
—Yes, with this exception, that the landlord has a few ponies which are kept on the island.

21453. Professor Mackinnon.
—Who supports your mission here?
—The Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge.

21454. And the complaint of the people about this church and manse exaction is that it never ceases?
—Never ceases.

21455. Do you think there has been a sufficient amount paid already by this island?
—More than its proportion.

21456. What is the benefit that Foula gets from the Ecclesiastical arrangements in Walls?
—The benefit is only to those who attend the church, and that is the smallest portion; most of the people of Foula belong to the Independent denomination.

21457. What benefit do the people of Foula get from the manse of Walls?
—None; the minister only visits this island once a year, if he does that.

21458. He is expected to visit you once a year?
—Yes, he or his assistant.

21459. And you have been paying 10s. a year for the manse for twenty years?

21460. Are you convinced in your own mind, that supposing the monopoly of the Messrs Garriock were broken up, other traders would be found quite ready to come in?
—I am quite convinced of that; and it would improve the condition of the people.

21461. Do you think there is a sufficient amount of trade to keep up one or two traders?
—I don't know. They would naturally run in whether it kept them or not.

21462. But would not they naturally run out again if it did not keep them?
—I mean that there would be more than one party who would visit Foula for the purpose of trading.

21463. There is great inequality in the stock; what stock do you keep?
—I have five cattle now, I think.

21464. Have you any sheep?
—A few.

21465. How many?
—I think six ewes.

21466. How many head of sheep altogether?
—About ten, I think, altogether.

21467. What will be about the rent?
—The rent of the whole place is about £5.

21468. Don't you think it is a very great anomaly that one person may have 100 sheep while another has none at ail, both paying the same rent?
—I do.

21469. Don't you think that some arrangement should be made by which that should be remedied?
—I do.

21470. What would you suggest?
—That every man should be stinted to a certain number, as many as the place could keep profitably; and that every man should keep a certain number according to the rent.

21471. And if he kept more than that number, that he should pay extra for them?

21472. To the person who has less?

21473. That is the usual way in Scotland?
—It is the fair way.

21474. Has any representation ever been made to the landlord or factor upon that subject?
—I think not.

21475. Do you think that if a reasonable representation was made it would not be listened to?
—I don't know. They are reluctant to make alterations, but they might do it.

21476. Of course a man with 100 sheep would be reluctant, but one would think those with few sheep would join in it?
—But I think it is fair between man and man.

21477. As a matter of fact, nobody has 100 sheep?

21478. But the rule is that he may have them if he pleases?
—Yes; and the worst of it is that where one or two have fifty they keep others out.

21479. So that the place would get overstocked?
—It does get overstocked.

21480. You taught the school here for a while?

21481. Are the people all able to read?

21482. And most of them to write?
—Yes; Foula bears favourable comparison with any place in Shetland for intelligence.

21483. Was the school we see here existing in your time?

21484. It is under the School Board of Walls?

21485. And one may expect the inspector in the future to come here every year?

21486. And education to be better than in the past?
—It should be.

21487. Are the people bound to go to the factor with their hosiery the the same as with their fish?

21488. You stated that they sold their hosiery upon the mainland?

21489. Are you aware of the difference in price between what they sell to the factor and what they sell on the mainland?
—I cannot say; I don't understand about that.

21490. Do you think they get more for what they sell at their own hand than what they get from Messrs Garriock?
—I cannot say.

21491. But it would be expected that they would?
—That would be expected.

21492. Is he expected to take from them all they offer him?
—I don't think there is any understanding in regard to the hosiery.

21493. As a matter of fact, does he always take all that is offered?
—Not always.

21494 But he always takes the fish?

21495. You would expect fish would be dearer on the mainland than here?

21496. The freight would account for a good deal?

21497. And you would expect goods here would be a little dearer, but do you think they are dearer than the cost of transit ought naturally to make them?
—I think they are.

21498. And that was especially the case about those animals you spoke of?

21499. You thought they brought about a third more on the mainland than here?

21500. Can you give us any example?
—I did not sell one this year; but I saw a man selling a quey and he asked £3, and I think he got £2, 18s.; and that beast or any of a like kind would have sold on the mainland for £5.

21501. What age was it?
—A three year old.

21502. What would be a reasonable freight for such a beast?
—5s. to 10s.

21503. Risk and all?
—Yes. A small vessel could ferry fourteen or fifteen animals, and 10s. each would be a good freight.

21504. And it actually brought £2, 2s. less?

21505. Are the people bound to give their beasts to the factor?
—They are not bound unless they are in his debt, and in that case they are bound to give them to him.

21506. But they are only bound to give their fish and take their stores?

21507. If a drover came from the mainland I suppose the people could sell him their beasts?
—They might.

21508. Why would they not encourage an enterprising drover?
—They would be frightened to sell.

21509. Was it ever tried?
—I think so, indeed I know.

21510. It appears from the paper, that except in this matter of the monopoly, the people are very well satisfied with the proprietor and factor?
—Very well indeed; we like Mr Garriock very well. I believe other people in the same field would be much worse than Messrs Garriock & Co.

21511. You might go farther and fare worse?
—Yes, but the principle is bad—the law that allows that is not fair between man and man.

21512. And you would be willing to risk the practice for the sake of the principle?

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