Lerwick, Shetland, 19 July 1883 - Edward Arthur

EDWARD ARTHUR, Crofter and Fisherman, Whalsay (68)—examined.

22112. Professor Mackinnon.
—Have you any other employment, besides crofter and fisherman?
—No. I have been for some time in the sailor line in my time.

22113. Were you long away as a sailor?
—About a dozen years.

22114. Were you a sailor or common officer?
—No, just before the mast.

22115. Have you a paper?
—Yes. 'To the Royal Commissioners for the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
—Gentlemen, we your petitioners, humbly state that we the crofters of Whalsay have grievances that we would wish to lay before you, viz., that in many cases our crofts have been reduced, and the rents raised; and in consequence of verbal leases, and no compensation for improvement, the crofters have poor encouragement for making improvements. And also our scathold in many cases has been reduced, and in some cases wholly taken away for sheep farming purposes, and consequently our chance of making a living is very limited; and likewise there is only one shop in the island, and no more being permitted, we find it a .great inconvenience; and other grievances might be personally stated before you.
—We are, gentlemen, your humble petitioners, Crofters of Whalsay.
—EDWARD ARTHUR, THOMAS HENDERSON, JAMES ROBSON, representatives for the crofters of Whalsay. 25th June 1883.

22116. You heard the former witness from Whalsay, and what he said about the state of the island?

22117. Do you agree with that so far as it went?
—I quite agree with it.

22118. You say in this paper that, in many cases, your crofts have been reduced?
—Yes, more tenants put on the land than there were there formerly.

22119. When was this done?
—1863, I think.

22120. Mr Bruce of Symbister was living at that time?
—Yes, he was.

22121. He was factor himself at that time?
—The factor had not come in then; the laird was alive.

22122. It was at that time that the crofts wore reduced by other people being sent in among you, and some of your crofts taken and given to those new people?

22123. Where did these people come from?
—From the islands.

22124. They belonged to the place?

22125. Were they all sons of crofters themselves, just in the same place?
—Yes, generally; just the neighbours.

22126. And others came from the place where the new farm was made?

22127. How many families came from where the new farm was made?
—No, none of them came from that.

22128. You say also that the rents were raised?

22129. Was it at that time the rents were raised?
—Yes; when the land was turned up, the rents were raised and the pasture land taken away at the same time.

22130. How much was the rent raised?
—In the first of my time I paid £4;—I paid 25s. a merk, which was about an acre. But for the very same land for which I paid £4, without tithe, thirty years ago, I now pay £6, 10s. with rates. We had no rates at that time, neither poor nor school rates.

22131. And the rates are very high?
—They are £1 now on me; so that really I pay £7 for what I got for £4 thirty years ago.

22132. The boundaries of your croft have not been changed?

22133. And have the rents of the other crofters in Whalsay been raised in much the same way?
—Yes, the very same.

22134. Verbal leases means that the people only held leases from year to year, I suppose?

22135. And that they could be sent away at forty days' notice?

22136. You think that if they had long leases and compensation for improvement, they would make improvements more than they do?
—Yes, there would then be better encouragement.

22137. I suppose, as a matter of fact, people are not turned away?

22138. But still you think if they had security that they would not be turned away, they would work better?
—Yes. The principal grievance at the present time is that our rents are far too high. We can raise very few cattle for that money, and the pasture being taken away from us.

22139. The paper says the scathold has been reduced, and in some cases wholly taken away?
—Some of our townships have not one foot of scathold. The cattle never know where the hill is; they must be reduced to the byre the whole season.

22140. The others have some scathold yet?
—Yes; but it is very poor.

22141. Can you tell me how much scathold was added to that sheep farm occupied by Mr Hamilton?
—I could not say.

22142. Is it a large track?
—Yes; Mr Hamilton has by far the best part of the scathold.

22143. Before 1853, did the whole of that stretch of scathold belong to the crofters?
—The whole of it. In my time we had freedom to put our stock on any part of the hill we pleased, and when the scathold was taken off it was a grievous thing for me, for I lost about seventy or eighty head of sheep which were in the property he took off. And after he took it in, my sheep lay outside until they died.

22144. When you had land thirty years ago at £4, 10s., had you plenty of sheep?
—Yes; we had plenty, and freedom. We never thought but that every tenant was to have plenty of freedom of the pasture.

22145. I suppose you may put as much stock as you please upon the scathold, only there is less scathold?
—Yes, but it won't hold them. And in our neighbourhood, where the scathold has been taken off, they must put their animals in upon us, and it is as bad for us as for them.

22146. Your grievance is that the rents have been raised very much, and that the scathold has been reduced upon you?
—Yes, on account of want of sheep we must all get cotton. Once we had warm wool, but now we have nothing to wear but cotton sheetings.

22147. Are the Whalsay people engaged in fishing?

22148. What fishing do they follow?
—Ling and herring fishing principally now, since the large boats have come in, but they follow the
ling fishing in the spring.

22149. Do they fish from the island or from the Outer Skerries?
—The small boats used to go to the Outer Skerries, and in the first of my time we used to fish from the land. We got for ling 3s. 4d., for tusk 2s. 6d., and for cod Is. 6d. per cwt. But then we had our land at 10s. a merk—low land and low fish. Our beef was 14s. per cwt., and our day's work was 10d. and find yourself. But now every man has freedom to fish to the best advantage; but his rent is heavy, and on account of our losing the pasture we are considerably harassed.

22150. Low rents and low prices for fish and beef in the past, and now high rents and high prices for fish and beef—which is the better condition for the crofter to be in?
—I could not say. The people think themselves better off now, on account of the times being more enlightened, and they can see better what they are doing.

22151. I am looking at it rather more in the light of food and clothes. What do you say of the present or the past; were the people more comfortable then than they are now, or are they more comfortable now than they were then?
—We have to buy a great deal of our living now ; the crofts can do very little for us.

22152. But you have more means?
—Yes, the earnings are better.

22153. Which is the best time —when you were young or now?
—It is better now, if we only had fair play with our land and pasture.

22154. You would like to make it better still by having lower rent?
—Yes, and by having use of the pasture as before.

22155. The factor just now is Mr Irvine?

22156. The proprietor is a minor?
—Yes, he is not of age. We have been under the factor for a good many years, and a good man he is. I
would not like to see him going naked or hungry.

22157. Is it he who has the only shop in the island?
—Yes, Hay & Co.

22158. Is he a member of that firm ?
—Yes, he has been.

22159. And is it to them you give the fish you get at the island?
—Yes, they have a fishing station on the island.

22160. And do the whole population give them fish?

22161. And do the people, considering they have put it down as a grievance, complain that there is only one shop on the island, and no more permitted?
—That is the great evil.

22162. Who has the power of permitting another shop on the island?
—Hay & Co.

22163. And they permit no one but themselves?
—No, he would allow no one to sell but himself, I suppose. The island being four miles perhaps, we send our children to the shop, and they may have to stand there from morning till night—there is a great run of business—and that is the reason why our children, and perhaps ourselves, cannot get served. And likewise, the firm have had all their own way —no opposition.

22164. I suppose you could put up with the delay if you had the advantage another way?

22165. Do you consider the articles in the shop are too dear?
—No, about current prices.

22166. And you get about the same prices for fish?

22167. But, at the same time, you would consider it a greater convenience if there were more than one shop?

22168. And more than one curer too?
—As for the curer, they always make away with all we have to give them.

22169. There is no curer on the island but Mr Hay?

22170. And no one can get there without his permission?
—No; he has the whole; there is no opposition on the island.

22171. And there can be none in your island?

22172. The former witness stated that the boat he had was his own, in part at least, is that a general practice in the place?
—Yes, they try to get the boats to themselves. Messrs Hay & Co. mostly keep a sixth share of the boat, and they supply the fishermen with boats until they can pay; but the interest is very heavy.

22173. Take the old sixern; there is a crew of six in the boat, and each would have a share and Mr Hay another?
—Not in the old sixern, only in the big boats; frequently four or five men hold the sixerns.

22174. And that boat and the fishing material are their own?

22175. And in the new large boats, what is the arrangement?
—Well, so far as they can purchase them they do; but if they cannot do that Messrs Hay & Co. generally supply them on credit, and assist them until they are able to pay.

22176. When a crew tries to purchase a boat, what are the terms upon
which they are allowed to pay?
—I suppose it is three years' credit that Messrs Hay & Co. give, and they charge, I suppose, 10 per cent, for what is due on the boat, and they dry, and let the fish pay for the boat.

22177. They allow three years' credit, and meanwhile they charge 10 per cent, upon what is not paid?
—I understand so.

22178. But supposing the crew were not able to purchase a boat in three years, what then?
—1 don't know what they do then. I suppose it must stand for debt still, and be charged interest still.

22179. If the crew does not endeavour to purchase a boat, what is the arrangement?
—They fish on the half-catch system.

22180. That is to say the owner owns the boat and material, and keeps them in order, and the crew gets one-half of the fish and the owner the other half?
— Yes.

22181. Is that the rule whether they are engaged in white fishing or herring fishing?
—Yes, in some cases, when they are big boats.

22182. Would it be the same rule of half-catch in the white fishing too?
—Yes. But the material for white fishing is not nearly so expensive as the material for the herring fishing; lines are not so dear as nets.

22183. But still half the fish is charged in the white fishing?
—Yes, I know some of the men who go for shares in boats at half-catch in ling fishing as well as in the herring fishing.

22184. The proprietor gives the boats and lines, and gets half the fish?
—Half the fish.

22185. And if they want to purchase the boat, they get three years to purchase it, and pay 10 per cent, on the capital?

22186. Who fixes the value of the boat and nets?
—The owner of the boat mentions his price for the boat; and as for the nets, we generally know what they cost.

22187. The present holder of the large sheep farm is Mr Hamilton?

22188. Does he live upon the farm?

22189. Is that the Mr Hamilton we met with as a factor in Unst?
—He is a brother, I think.

22190. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What things are sold in this shop of Messrs Hay & Co.?
—Groceries of all kinds, and goods as well.—everything.

22191. Are spirits sold?

22192. Are there any spirits sold in the island?
—No, there is no licence for it.

22193. Have you anything more you wish to say ?

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