Hillswick, Shetland, 17 July 1883 - Rev J.R. Sutherland

The Rev. J. R. SUTHERLAND, Minister of North Mavin (66)—examined.

20770. Mr Cameron.
—How long have you been resident in this parish, Mr Sutherland?
—About thirty-five years.

20771. Are you a native of this place?
—No, I am a native of Morayshire.

20772. What is the population of your parish?
—About 2500, or a little more.

20773. Has there been an increase in the last decennial period, or a decrease?
—I think a slight decrease.

20774. How are the people chiefly occupied?
—In general they are occupied in fishing and farming.

20775. There is no other occupation in the parish?
—There are tradesmen, such as shoemakers, tailors, and carpenters, and masons, but every one of them holds land.

20776. Can you give us any idea how many of these tradesmen there may be in the parish?
—No, I cannot say.

20777. I mean as indicative of the work which is going on—is there much labour employed?
—The most of the labour is connected with the fishing directly or indirectly, in building or repairing houses, and making shoes and clothes for the people. There is nothing more that I know of.

20778. Are there many new houses being built in the parish?
—Well, the houses don't stand very long, and are generally requiring something to be done to them. There are not many new houses.

20779. When a new house is built, is it made of stone and lime, or dry building?
—Generally stone and lime, I think.

20780. And what roofing do they put on?
—Just a common roof, wood and felt.

20781. Not slate?
—Sometimes there are a few slated houses now.

20782. Are they thatched at all?
—The people thatch them with straw.

20783. Is there any natural thatch in the country, such as heather or bracken?

20784. Are the houses pretty comfortable compared with other parts of the island?
—Yes; I may say in general about the people that I don't know—and I have been over all Scotland—any people who should be more happy or comfortable if they would be industrious and took care of what they make. I do not mean to say they are not industrious, but I do not know any people who would be more comfortable and happy if they would take care of what they make.

20785. Have the people who occupy land, in your opinion, got a sufficient amount of pasture land for their animals?
—So far as I know, they have an amply sufficient quantity of common.

20786. What extent of pasture land or common grazing have they got?
—I could not condescend upon the particular quantity. But if I took one of the places, and had money in my pocket to buy sheep and cattle I could keep as many as I chose without any person interfering with me. The pastures are free and open, not a piece here and there for you and me, but pastures all open.

20787. Is that the case in every town in the parish?
—It is the case in almost every town in the parish, so far as I know.

20788. Is the result of that system that they keep too many animals on the grass, and that therefore the animals deteriorate in size and quality?
—Some may keep more —the poorer people are not able to buy them; but some may keep more than they would be justified if there was a strict inquiry made; but there is no such inquiry.

20789. Have you observed any discontent on the part of those who don't keep as many cattle as their neighbours?
—No; but there will be discontent, do whatever you may in any part of the world.

20790. But in this particular instance, might it not occur that where you have common grazing, and where every one has an equal right to put as much stock upon it as he can, that some of the tenants might complain that the ground was overcrowded and the grass eaten up by animals belonging to their neighbours?
—I cannot say I have heard any complaint.

20791. You have never heard of any movement amongst the tenants to do away with the present system, and establish a club farm in place of it?
—No, certainly not. I don't think any system could be better for poor people than the system they have here.

20792. And you are convinced that the system satisfies the people themselves?
—I am satisfied that the people who are well-doing and industrious could not be better in their position. That is my experience.

20793. Comparing the condition of the people at the present moment with what it was when you first came to the parish, what is your opinion—are they in a better position?
—They should be in a better position. The price of cattle is double what it was when I came here. The price of cattle and sheep and horses has doubled, I am certain, since I came here; and if the people are not better off, it is themselves who are to blame.

20794. Are they tolerably well clothed, and comfortable in that respect?
—I will give you an illustration, if you will allow me. An old gentleman, minister of Stonehaven, came to Shetland, and he said when he came to Shetland and went to church, he held his head down and looked round, thinking he would see a congregation clad in skins; but when he looked round he saw a congregation that might have been in London. And I can say that, in this church where I have been minister so long, there is not a better clad people in Scotland than they are.

20795. Does that remark apply equally to the children?
—The children who are able to come to church are well clad. Of course, there are exceptions; but that is the general appearance of this congregation, and I suppose it is the same over the whole country.

20796. You have not found the want of clothing keeps any children away from school?
—I have not had much experience of that; but I should not think so.

20797. You think the children are fairly well clad?
—I think so, but of course there are exceptions.

20798. Are you a member of the School Board?
—I was, but I am not now.

20799. Who are the members of that School Board?
—I don't know.

20800. Have you any remarks to make upon the education of the people?
—Taking them all in all, they are exceedingly well educated for the situation of life in which they are. I don't know any person with whom I have had dealings who cannot write his name and read. Taking the people altogether, they are a nice kind-hearted, good people?

20801. You heard the evidence given by the last witness about scab among the ponies : was that ever brought under your notice before?
—It was just for one winter or so; it was not general at all.

20802. You think it need not interfere with the re-introduction of the ponies?
—Not at all.

20803. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You spoke guardedly when asked about the condition of the people by saying that ' if they took care, etc.,' what meaning do you attach to that? You say they would be very comfortable if they took care?
—It would be an exceptional number that would not be taking care; and there would be the same south and north. I mean that you will find people who don't take care of the means they have, and you will find that in every community, south and north. I don't mean anything more than that.

20804. What is the average attendance at your church?
—I don't know; it depends very much upon the weather—400, 500, or 600, and at communion there would be a great turn out.

20805. One of the preceding witnesses spoke about the great distance Sutherland, they were from a road; are other townships in the parish in want of a road?
—Yes, there is only one general road from Lerwick. When I came here there was not a single inch of road, but the country has very much improved sines then. I can now drive sixty miles on that road now; I can drive to Dunrossness; and there are roads being made through the country, as they have means to do it. But it would be very difficult and costly, taking the rental of the parish, to make roads wherever they may be required.

20806. Is this bay of Hillswick likely to be improved as a fishing station ?
—I think so, and hope so.

20807. Is it growing under your own observation?
—It has always been a chief fishing station. Perhaps the fishing station for herring has only been here about a year, but I have reason to believe the herring fishing has been increased.

20808. Is the proprietor inclined to give facilities to the fish-curers if necessary?
—The principal property in this parish is under trustees, and I don't know in what capacity they are to do such a thing, but I know they will be very happy to make it as easy as possible for anybody.

20809. Is the heir to the property under age or under disability ?
—The late proprietor, who died about twenty years ago, had no children, and he left his estate, which was considerably encumbered, under trust, mentioning that the sou of a niece of his, who is still unmarried, should succeed when he became twenty years of age, and mentioning another niece's son who, when he came to twenty years of age, should succeed in the event of the other failing. Neither of the nieces has had any sou. The trustees are, I think, Messrs Hay, Lerwick, who are nephews of the late Mrs Gifford, Busta. The ultimate destination is to Mr Cheyne, sheriff-substitute, Dundee.

20810. How long is this likely to be in suspense?
—Nobody can tell that.

20811. How long were the Giffords connected with this place ?
—They came here upwards of 200 years ago to be managers or factors, for, I think, the Earl of Morton, and like every other body in Shetland, they bought a piece of land, and got up in that way. But I don't think the people could be better than they are. I may explain about the houses that the people may have reason to complain of them not being as they should be. But if I get a piece of land and pay 50s. or £3 , and call upon an heritor to give me a new house, costing £4 0 or £50, my rental would be raised 10 per cent, for the material of the house; and that is the explanation of how heritors cannot give the people the houses they think they ought to have; it is impossible.

20812. The Chairman.
—What is the poor rate in the parish—how much in the pound?
—I almost never attend the meetings of the Parochial Board, but all collections taken up in this church are expended by the kirk-session in aiding a number of people who are now on a list of their own, and nearly as numerous as those under the Parochial Board. We take care not to let into our list recipients of parochial relief, but only those who soon would be recipients, and we divide the whole collection amongst them.

20813. When you spoke about the people being careful, or the contrary, was it implied that, on recent years, there has been extravagance in food or dress among the people which was not the case before?
—No, I don't think it; I think, maybe, they depend a little too much upon tea. But there are a hundred waya in which I could spend my little means, as a labouring man, which 1 could not find much fault with, and yet it might be better administered.

20814. Is there more intoxicating drink consumed than there used to be?
—I have been here thirty-five years, and never met a drunken man. There may have been drunken men, but I have never seen one.

20815. How many public-houses are there in the parish?
—There are no public-houses in the parish. A merchant or two may have a licence, but that is merely for selling over the counter.

20816. There is no public-house where drink could be sold for consumption?

20817. Is that to the people's satisfaction?
—I never heard any expression that they desired to have one. They area very temperate people as a whole.

20818. In connection with the increasing fishing industry, is there any importation of labour, especially female labour, from outside?
—There may have been this year and last year for gutting the herring.

20819. What lodging is provided for the women who are brought over here; are they treated with decency?
—Oh, certainly. There were some came here who were lodged in a very comfortable nice place.

20820. And do the women of the local population also take a part in the gutting work?
—A few of the women here are employed in knitting; they are perhaps the best knitters in the kingdom.

20821. The hosiery trade?

20822. Is that increasing or decreasing?
—Every one of the women is engaged in it. You cannot get them to be servants or anything else.

20823. There is a large property in the parish which has been a long time under trust?
—About twenty years.

20824. Was there a residence for the family on the property recently?
—At Busta—a nice residence.

20825. Who is that occupied by now?
—The factor is lodged there; and Miss Gifford, the late proprietor's niece, has apartments assigned to her.

20826. Do you think the estate suffers from the want of a resident proprietor—I mean are the trustees restricted in their expenditure more than a resident proprietor would be ?
—I do not think so; I never knew that there was any difference.

20827. You think the trust expend just as much in making new houses and other improvements as the proprietor made?
—As far as I know.

20828. The importation of these strangers for the fishing is not producing any disorder or immorality of any kind ?
—Not, so far as I know; that is a new thing here.

20829. Do they go to church?
—Yes, I saw several on Sunday.

20830. Are there any missions?
—I have a missionary, and there are several other denominations in the parish.

20831. And they hold religious services during the fishing season?
—I suppose so.

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