Lerwick, Shetland, 19 July 1883 - James Robertson

JAMES ROBERTSON, Happy Hansel, Parish of Walls (37)—examined.

21702. The Chairman.
—Are you a delegate, or do you appear here on your own account?
—I appear as a delegate.

21703. How many persons took part in your election?
—Probably fifty or sixty.

21704. What statement did they desire that you should make on their behalf?
—They wish fair and fixed rents, and security of tenure, and also compensation for improvements. A meeting of crofters in the parish of Walla was held in Old Happy Hansel school, on 2nd July 1883, for the purpose of appointing delegates to appear before the Royal Commissioners, and state the grievances of the crofters in this district. Mr J. D. Robertson was unanimously elected chairman, and stated to the meeting the purpose for which the Royal Commission had been appointed. After some conversation it was unanimously agreed to, that the following were the principal grievances of which the crofters have to complain, viz.:
1. Excessively high rents. The rent charged for land in this locality is much beyond its productive value, land being generally of inferior quality. The rents in many cases have been doubled during the last thirty years.
2. The crofters in Walls have no security of tenure, but are entirely at the mercy of the laird or factor, who at any time may drive them to the fields by giving forty days' notice. This state of matters is felt to be a very great hardship, and gives no encouragement to tenants to improve their holdings.
3. Although a tenant may improve the land he occupies to the fullest extent, yet on his having to leave the croft, by his own wish or by the order of the laird and factor, he cannot claim for any of the mprovements he may have executed, but must walkout whether any compensation is allowed or not. The crushing burden of rates which the tenant has to pay presses very heavily on the people in this district, and tends to pauperise them. The poor and school rates alone amount to the sum of 7s. 9d. per pound, the half of which is payable by tenants. Although road money is paid, scarcely any of it is expended in country districts. The state of the roads in many places during the winter are a source of danger to the community.
The foregoing are the principal grievances from which the crotters suffer, and this meeting would humbly recommend to the notice of the Royal Commissioners that an alteration of the existing state of things, so as to ameliorate the condition of crofters, has become a dire necessity. The law would require to be changed so that the crofters could have the following privdeges, viz.:
(1) security of tenure, with the existing scathold as formerly held;
(2) a fair and fixed rent;
(3) compensation for improvements ,
(4) reduction of local rents by subsidy from Government to parishes where the rents exceed 5s. per pound.
Mr J. D. Robertson and Mr John Jamieson were appointed delegates.' (signed) J. D. ROBERTSON, Chairman, JOHN JAMIESON, and by sixty-nine others. On 7th July an adjourned meeting of crofters was held, when the foregoing statement was read, and unanimously approved of by all present.

21705. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—It is stated in this paper that the crofters in Walls have no security of tenure; as a matter of fact, are
removals frequent?

21706. Is there much room for improvement of the crofts if security of tenure were given?
—Yes, much room.

21707. What size of croft do you hold?
—A small croft of about a couple of acres or thereby.

21708. Is it all arable land?
—Yes, with right to scathold outside.

21709. Is there room for you to increase the arable land?
—Not for me individually.

21710. But have your neighbours much ground which they could improve?
—Yes, everybody has some.

21711. Except you?
—Yes, almost everybody.

21712. Has any one in your recollection added to his croft by improving the land?
—Yes, many.

21713. Have rents been increased in consequence?
—They have.

21714. Can you mention an instance where land was improved and the rent consequently increased?
—I cannot say it has been increased in consequence, but it has been increased very quickly after the improvement.

21715. Give us an instance of that?
—There is the case of Lawrence Jamieson.

2171G. What is the size of his croft?
—Probably five or six acres.

21717. How much of that has he improved?
—He was the incoming tenant; the rent was raised when he came in on account of improvements.

21718. The outgoing tenant had improved the land;

21719. Why did the outgoing tenant leave it?
—Force of circumstances, not the will of the laird.

21720. He was not able to pay the rent?
—He was not able to work the land; he had too few of a family.

21721. And when he left he got no compensation?

21722. How long had he had the croft?
—Probably from twelve to twenty years.

21723. Had he made much improvement upon it?
—Yes, he probably doubled its extent.

21724. What rent did he pay?
—Originally about £3, and latterly about £6 or £7.

21725. Was it increased on the outgoing tenant?
—The rent was about full to the outgoing tenant before any one came in.

21726. And that in the course of twelve or fifteen years?
—About that

21727. What rent do you pay?
—£4 is the stipulated rent.

21728. And rates besides that?

21729. You say your arable land is not above two acres"
—I think so.

21730. What stock do you keep?
—No stock; I work on a different system from anybody else.

21731. What use do you make of your land?
—I principally raise potatoes.

21732. What quantity do you raise?
—It is rather a hard question.

21733. Do you use them all yourself?
—Yes, all of them.

21734. How long do they keep you?
—We are supposed to have as many as we require until the new ones come in again.

21735. Do you build your own houses, or does the landlord do it?
—The house I occupy is an old one, and I do the repairs on it myself.

21736. It was originally built by the proprietor?

21737. Is it a slated house?

21738. How many rooms are there in it?
—Originally there were four, it is a peculiar house that way; it is the property of the School Board,
being the old schoolmaster's house.

21739. Is it to the School Board you pay your rent?
—I am supposed to pay to them; but I pay nothing, for reasons best known to myself. There is a dispute about whose it is.

21740. What has become of the four rooms?
—The partition and bulkheads of most of them are away.

21741. Who removed the partitions?

21742. Are your potatoes sufficient to keep you for a year?

21743. And you consider £4 a very high rent for that?
—Yes, and consequently refuse to pay i t; that is the reason I say I don't pay the rent.

21744. Your neighbour Lawrence Jamieson, of whom you spoke, pays £6, 10s. of rent?
—Yes, about that.

21745. And he has about six acres of land?
—About that.

21746. What stock does he keep?
—About seven to nine cattle of all kinds, young and old.

21747. Ponies?
—I don't know if he has any; but that don't interfere with the croft.

21748. That is on account of the scathold?
—Yes, most of those who have ponies pay no rent; the hills are open.

21749. Is it the custom of people who pay no rent to make use of the scathold ground?

21750. Do you hold that they have a right to do so?
—They make a right any way; there have been no objections raised to their having a pony or two.

21751. And if a tenant keeps a pony on the scathold you don't count that part of his rights?
—No, he may keep one or a hundred, and no one interferes.

21752. What sort of house has Lawrence Jamieson?
—A very good thatched house.

21753. Did the landlord put it up?
—I suppose he did originally.

21754. And the tenant keeps it in repair ?

21755. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you got any leases in the place where you are?
—No, I am not aware of any.

21756. Is there no such thing known?
—No, I think not.

21757. You are entirely tenants at will?

21758. I think you said the people are very willing to improve if they were sure they would not be turned out without the value of their improvements?

21759. Who is proprietor of the land about?
—There is no one proprietor; it is a sort of republic; there are about twenty.

21760. But a republic without liberty?
—Without much liberty.

21761. Mr Cameron.
—You mean too much liberty?
—Yes, too much.

21762. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What is the biggest rent of any single member of the republic?
—I don't know of any above £5 or £6, except house tenants.

21763. None of the people who signed the paper you read are landlords themselves?
—Yes, one small landlord signed that paper.

21764. To whom do the bulk of the people who signed the paper pay rents?
—To Mr Scott, the laird of Melby.

21765. Is he the proprietor of the island of Foula?

21766. Does he live near you?
—Yes, just a few miles over the hills.

21767. Does he reside there the most of the year?
—Yes; he is not of age yet

21768. Who has charge of the estate?
—Mr Garriock, Raewick.

21769. Is he any friend or relation of the laird ?
—Not so far as I know.

21770. Does the proprietor or those who act for him lay out any money in improving the estate?
—Yes, there is some laid out in making new houses; there is so much given, and the tenant does the rest.

21771. Is that going on just now?

21772. You have no complaint, so far as houses are concerned?|
—No, no particular complaint. All the repairs are done by the tenant.

21773. You state in the paper that the crushing burden of rates which the tenants have to pay presses very heavily upon the people of the district, and tends to pauperise them; whose fault is it that the burdens are so heavy?
—That is a question we cannot decide.

21774. You are not the causes of it yourselves, are you?
—I don't think it.

21775. Don't you think it is as much the interest of the proprietor as the tenants to keep down the rates?
—Yes, more so.

21 776. Do you know what the school rate is in the parish of Walls?
—I think 2s. 7d. in the pound of rental this year; it will be better than 3s. in the pound next year.

21777. One half payable by the landlord and one half by the tenant?

21778. What is the poor rate?
—2s. 6d. I think on each side, on the nett rent, not the gross.

21779. You complain of the road money, is that a heavy assessment?
—I think 6d. in the pound.

21780. Do you pay in Walls an ecclesiastical assessment —an assessment for the church or manse, or something which was done some years ago ?
—No, not exactly; it was simply a raising of rent, and no cause given. It was not paid for church buildings or parochial buildings; it was simply a rise of rent at the time the parochial buildings were put up, some twelve or fourteen years ago.

21781. And it still continues?
—And in all probability will.

21782. Do you recollect when it was first put on?
—I think it was in 1869, but I cannot say exactly.

21783. What makes the people in Foula, where we were yesterday, think that an ecclesiastical rent?
—The opposition of religious matters, I suppose.

21781. But your receipts don't bear that it is an ecclesiastical burden?
—Not in the least.

21785. One of the things you ask is a reduction of local rates by a subsidy from Government, in parishes where the rates exceed 5s. per pound; who made the suggestion at the meeting that the Government should relieve you of part of the rates?
—I think it was I myself, if I remember rightly.

21786. Where did you get that idea?
—The Government now gives us help towards maintaining lunatics, and they pay a certain proportion to the doctor for the poor, and in a place where the rates are heavy, why should they not pay something towards the maintenance of the poor as well.

21787. That was what passed through your mind when you made that suggestion?
—Yes; they help in one direction, and why not in another, when the burden is so high? Next year the school rate may be half as much more than it is now.

21788. Are the school buildings not all yet erected?
—No, not yet.

21789. The Chairman.
—You stated that you use almost all your ground for the raising of potatoes?
—Yes, I don't raise any corn.

21790. Do you sell any potatoes?
—No, I very rarely sell any.

21791. Do you always cultivate the same ground for potatoes, or do you observe any rotation?
—All round are shifting.

21792. Do you shift ?
—Not always.

21793. Do you observe a rotation?
—No, no regular rotation.

21794. Do you keep a cow?
—Not at present.

21795. How do you manure the ground?
—With the refuse from the fire, or anything of that kind—ashes.

21796. You don't use any sea-weed?
—No, it is rather too far away.

21797. Do you find that the ground is exhausted?
—No doubt, it will. be exhausted in the long run.

21798. You said that most of the tenants in the neighbourhood paid rent to Mr Scott of Melby, do any pay rent to Adie?
—Not in our immediate neighbourhood.

21799. I thought you were at Voe?
—I am at Voe, Walls, and Adie's property is at Voe, Delting.

21800. Are the tenants on Mr Scott of Melby's ground under any obligation to fish for any particular person?
—No, they are free to fish to whom they will, and sell to whom they will.

21801. There is no complaint about that?

21802. In your neighbourhood are there any people so far from the high road that they don't benefit by it?

21803. Is there any township very far from the high road?
—One half of the parish of Sandness is about eight miles from any road except what the sheep have tracked through the heather.

21804. Is there any kind of track a cart could go along?
—Not across the hills.

21805. Has the proprietor ever done anything towards making a road?
—The Road Trustees commenced a road, and made a small bit at each end, and then stopped.

21806. The proprietors and tenants have never done anything towards making a road?
—Nothing worthy of the name.

21807. Have they made an attempt to make a road?
—Very little.

21808. The authorities cannot make a road everywhere; but supposing the proprietor was to offer to the tenants to make a road privately, would the tenants help the proprietor?
—Not unless compelled.

21809. Supposing the proprietor said he would pay half the expense, would the tenants do something on their part without payment ?
—No, nothing without payment now.

21810. You said the rent was raised about the time the manse was built?
—Yes, the manse was built and the church repaired.

21811. And about the same time there was a rise of rent?

21812. But it was not specified in your papers that it was on account of the manse and repairs?-
—No, simply a rise all over.

21813. Do you think there was any connection between the building of the manse and the raising of the rent?
— Certainly, the laird had to get the money from some quarter, and make good the difference.

21814. Was it the general impression of the people that the one thing was caused by the other?
—It was.

21815. There are, I suppose, some people belonging to the Established Church?
—I think the majority—perhaps not a majority of the parish, but a majority of the church-going people —belong to the Established Church.

21816. And the Established Church people thought so themselves?
—I never heard a dissenting voice to that.

21817. Did it cause much discontent?
—It caused a good deal of talk.

21818. Were the Established Church people just as much discontented as the dissenters?
—Yes, if possible more so.

21819. Have you any other statement you wish to make?
—No, nothing in particular,- we have nothing to say against the lairds or factors, simply against the law as it stands.

21820. You wish security of tenure? How long do you think a lease ought to be?
—A man would require twenty years.

21821. You think if they had that they would give satisfaction?
—Yes, I think it would give great satisfaction. There is an unwritten law now supposed to exist—and that is what is wanted to be altered —that is, as long as a man is honest and pays his rent, he may remain. There have been no evictions amongst us for sake of sheep; the great grievance is that the proprietor should take advantage of the law, and enclose the scathold, and leave them worse than nothing. It is evil to come that we fear; we have had advantages in Walls which they have not had anywhere in Shetland.

21822. I thought Hillswick was as well off as Walls?
—Not in times past. We have a number of proprietors and lairds, and amongst the lot we have more liberty than the people elsewhere. A great advantage in keeping down rents was emigration to New Zealand and owing to the natural formation of the parish, it cannot be let for farms.

21823. When the people went away, did they go of their own accord?
—Of their own free will.

21824. How were they encouraged to go?
—By free emigration.

21825. Did any agent come to explain to them?
—Yes, there were travelling agents about that time.

21826. How did the people find money to go?
—There was no money required; the emigration was free.

21827. When they got abroad, were they given land?
—No, they just worked at the best thing that turned up.

21828. How did they succeed?
—As a rule, all well.

21829. Do they write to their friends in this country?

21830. Are anymore people going out to them ?
—If emigration was free now, probably they would.

21831. How was the money recovered from those who were taken out free?
—It never was recovered; it was the New Zealand Government that took them out, not private individuals.

21832. Were whole families taken, or only men?
—Whole families, men, women, and children; but families had to find their own way to London.

21833. Did the Government supply them with food, or did they take their own provisions?
—The Government supplied them.

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