Lerwick, Shetland, 19 July 1883 - James Polson

JAMES POLSON, Crofter and Fisherman, Whalsay (34)—examined.

22201. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you any statement to make?
—I have. ' I am a crofter on the estate of Symbister Whalsay; my father and grandfather were also the same. We have made our living by fishing and crofting, always striving to look the world in the face, as the feeling of the Shetlander is to look the world in the face and owe no man anything. About fifty years back we had a hard struggle to keep the wolf from the door, but of late we have made many improvements. Our boats have been made larger, from 20 feet of keel by 8 feet to 45 feet by 16 feet. Our gear has been improved also from coarse hemp nets to fine cotton nets; likewise our lines and hooks. We have not been kept so hard down by the landlords of late. About the year 1849 there was a measuring up of tenants' crofts, and tenants put in extra on the crofts, to the extent of one-fourth more on the average of the island. Then the tenant was forced to fish to the landlord. The fish on the average brought from 2s. 6d. to 3s. per cwt. The land then rented at 10s. per mark, and run about 3 marks to every croft. Then we paid tithes or teinds —for every cow 4 lbs. Butter and one gallon oil; for every boat drawn on shore or beach one fowl; for every mark of land two gallons of oil. The houses are in general built and maintained by the tenant, and no compensation given on removal. For building, no favourable offers by the landlord; no long leases offered. In 1863 the land was measured over again and rented at from 30s. to 33s. per acre. Rents in general run from £4 to £7 per croft. In 1866 the scathold or common was taken away, to the extent of about two-fifths, and had it not been for the kindness of the present farmer occupying the big farm of Symbister, the case would have been worse. There have been two evictions to make the farm of Symbister larger; the people are still in and got no compensation. The crofters are under no engagement to fish for the landlord as far as I am informed. There is an advantage by fishing and crofting. In the winter time, when we can do nothing to fishing we can work on the croft. The fish-curer has one shop in the island. But I do not think, as far as I know, that he wants any one to buy. But as there is only one shop in the island, and no more allowed to be, we find it a great drawback to the population of about 1000 people. We stand in need of two harbours. We have no safe anchorage, and it is only in fine weather that we can take our boats ashore to get cleaned and painted. We are rated at about 2s. per £of rent, and the school rate is from 2s. to 2s. 6d. Pauperism is on the increase of about one pauper per year, according to the increase of the population. There are also about sixteen squatters settled on the estate during the last twenty years. The reforms wanted are security against unfair rents; a valuator to be appointed by parliament; full compensation on removal for buildings and improvements by the tenant; long leases wanted on fair terms. We would be glad to get our scathold which was taken away back again if possible.

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