Lerwick, Shetland, 19 July 1883 - Gideon Sinclair et al

GIDEON SINCLAIR, Crofter, Torrarait, Lunnasting (83), assisted by WILLIAM SINCLAIR, Torrarait (55)—examined.

(See Appendix A, LII.)

22542. The Chairman.
—You were a fisherman when you were young ?

22543. Have you a statement to make
—I have. ' A meeting of the crofters, tenants, farmers, in Lunnasting district, having met in the public school at Queeness, on the 7th day of July 1883, for the purpose of submitting statements and grievances, and to appoiut delegates to wait on the Royal Crofters' Commissioners expected to Lerwick soon, and give all evidence and information touching the various points connected with the land question, —the meeting unanimously agree to appoint, and hereby appoint, three delegates to represent the parish, and to wait upon the Royal Commissioners at Lerwick, and to give all the evidences required —said delegates to consist of Gideon Sinclair, Torrarait, John Pearson, Sweening, and William Sinclair, Torrarait Laseo. Statements by a few of the oldest crofters, as follows:
—(1) Thomas Herculeson, East Dyke, [see Appendix A. LII] aged 74 years, has held a croft for about fifty-four years. Rent of East Dyke for the first twenty years, £2, 8s. and three 1 days' work (equal to 3s.); said land rent consisted of scat, 4s., or Is. 4d. per merk less, about Is. 4d. teinds, 2s. Id. for each cow, and 1 Id. per head for sheep, the number unrestricted, and sheep numbered at the end of every seventh year. Thinks it about seventeen years since the landlord first commenced to raise the rent, and it has gradually risen till it is now £6, 12s., excluding assessment. Scat less, and old teinds still charged, and the sheep teinds now Is. per head, number limited to fifteen. Part of the scathold appropriated by the landlord, enclosed by wire fences; could have kept more than double the sheep about twenty-four years ago, or till such time as the enclosing of scathold took place. Considers the farm with about half the present rent with a right to all scathold as previously enjoyed. No croft in Shetland can be kept without the privilege of scathold, to which every tenant considers he has a right. (2) John Halcrow, aged 76 years, held a croft called the West Pund of Lunna for about thirty years. When he first took the farm, he paid an aunual rent of £2, and continued to pay that rent for about three years, when the landlord increased it 4s., and continued to increase the rent till at the expiry of eight years the rent was about £2 , 5s. 8d., and was afterwards raised to £3 , 16s. The first four years had a right to scathold, and could keep as many sheep as he wished. At the end of the first four years the landlord enclosed all the scathold or pasture, and allowed the tenant to keep no sheep, but allowed him to keep two cows on the pasture, for which 8s. per. head was charged. The tenant cultivated and extended the farm, built dykes, &c, and three years ago he was evicted. (3) Gilbert Johnson, 83 years of age, held a croft for sixty seven years; removed to Lunnasting from Delting in 1824; paid land rent, including all casuals, £4 , In the year 1824, scat 6d. per. mark, three days' work, equal to 3s.; three fowls, equal to Is. 6d; boat teind, 1½ gallons oil, equal to 2s. 3d.; paid 2s. Id. for cow teind, paid l½d. for parish minister's sound freights; sheep teind 1½d. per head, and the sheep numbered at the end of the every seventh year. In Delting held a farm in Dale, and paid a rent of £7, consisting of scathold. Disputed with the proprietor about the scat being too high, and the proprietor said that the scathold did not belong to the proprietor, but belonged to Government, and that he had to charge the tenant in proportion. Sheep farms and evictions:
—The landlord has enclosed the greater part of the scathold here (pasture), and turned it into sheepfarms, and in consequence there has been a number of evictions. John Simpson,[see Appendix A. LII) Hamnavoe, Lunnaness, age 69 years, has held a croft in Lunnaness for about fifty years; paid a rent of £2, consisting of scat, and sheep teind, and days' work, and at that time could keep as many sheep as he wished; and after holding said farm for some years a great portion of the scathold was appropriated by the landlord, viz., a part of Lunnaness, Setterness, and part of the pasture at or near Lunna. The only compensation was increase of rent £5, 5s. 3d., and the number of sheep limited to fifteen head, for which 9d. per head is charged, and only allowed to keep four cows. The pasture or scathold is now so very limited that it is quite insufficient for the tenants in Lunnaness. The rents now charged are excessive, and the whole scathold to which the tenants consider they have a right, and a part of which has been appropriated by the landlord, should be restored. Evictions from Lunna, 9; Evictions from Vidlin, 4.

22544. You have had five proprietors since you were there?
—Yes, and the rent was never raised above l½d. per head of sheep; but when Mr Bell got it, he thought that was too little, and he laid on another l½d., making 3d., afterwards 6d. was put on, making 9d.; and then he put up a division rail between, and for putting up that he clapped on another 6d., making it Is. 3d. a head we had to pay. He has not lifted the land rent so much as he has lifted an enormous rent for sheep. When my son saw that we had to pay from £3, 15s. to £10, 8s. 7d. for all we had done, he thought he would leave; and for my part,*I can neither fend nor anything, for I cannot earn 6d. The town was uninhabitable, and we trenched about four acres of ground and laid about 150 yards of drains; and for all his pains, making drains and dykes, and putting everything in good order, and spending his whole labour and strength on the spot, he has now to leave it to another man. I think he ought to be paid for his trouble. Although he was not warned from his place, £10, 8s. 7d. was too much rent to put on.

22545. The Chairman (to William Sinclair).
—Have you something you wish to say?
—What I wish to say is this : I took a piece of new ground from Mr Bell, about three acres in extent, and I have stayed upon it for fourteen years, and have been working away until I got it cultivated, and I have purchased picks and shovels out of my money; and the croft has been raised from £3 to £5, 5s. 4d.; and now he says, 'If I am not satisfied, I am at liberty to go.'

22546. Had you a lease ?
—No; I think it hard that we should have had to spend our money and our labour, sometimes working up to our knees in frost and snow, to be put out for nothing. The life we have endured upon that spot of ground no one knows. Sometimes we only got two meals of meat in the day, and sometimes we did not taste bread for eight days, but lived on fish continually. And, after all our labour he says ' I am afraid you are badly satisfied, you must go;' and £30 would not pay me for what I have done.

22547. Have you always been a crofter?
Gideon Sinclair. No; have been at the fishing every year.

22548. You never were a trader?
—No, I have no trade. Things went on very well in Mr Bell's time as long as he kept it in his own hand. One time when he laid on rent, he said, ' your place will be no dearer while I live,'and I said, 'Will you give me your handwriting on it?' and he said ' No. To give you a tack would cost you something; and, if I give you my word it is as good as a writing.' And now he says he does not recollect saying such a thing. Mr Robertson, to whom we are now fishing, takes all our fish, and gives Is. less per cwt. than other people, and we durst not put any past him.

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