Lerwick, Shetland, 19 July 1883 - Thomas Henderson

THOMAS HENDERSON, Crofter and Fisherman, Whalsay—examined.

22194. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—How long have you been a crofter?
—My great grandfather, my grandfather, my father and myself succeeded each other on the same croft, and in the same cottage until the year 1853. In the year 1849 no change had taken place so far as known to me with the crofters. In the year 1849 the crofters had from early childhood improved and cultivated a great deal of fallow ground—broken it up and cultivated it. The consequence was that in 1849 the landlord overlooked and measured it up; and planted in the township or district to which I belonged, where twenty-two crofts existed, eight more, and did not reduce the rent. Previous and up to 1863 we were charged what are called teinds. Our land then was twenty-five to thirty shillings for three merks. We were charged as corn teinds two gallons of oil on each merk we had, and we were charged one gallon of oil for boat teind. Wre had to pay four pounds of butter for each milk cow annually, and twopence a head for every sheep on the scathold. In 1863 the land was laid out In crofts in a different form and put in fields, patches, or lots; and no more crofters were put in on the land. The teinds were no more heard of, and where I once paid 25s. to 30s., I was asked in the first place £6. In consequence of that I objected, and the proprietor graciously gave me down 10s. of the rent. I said 'That will be for the next man' I got a house in the parish and stopped there three years, and then, in consequence of a member of my family being in delicate health, the doctor advised me not to remove to the township. They were then planting down squatters, and a man had planted down and stopped one year. Another succeeded him, and when he left I squatted after him, and I am there, I think, for the last sixteen years. My rent is £3 and the usual rates. The most of what I have under crop I have cultivated myself, trenched, and drained, and cleared. I think the rent too high; I not only speak for myself, but for those who elected me to come here.

22195. You came in sixteen years ago?

22196. At a rent of £3?

22197. Into an outset?

22198. And you have cultivated it yourself?

22199. And built a house?
—The house was built by the man who squatted down first, but the proprietor repaired it and made it better for me. But he don't charge any interest on the house. It didn't require a new roof, it was only the walls that were a little weak, but I built the outhouses. I don't say that the people are not in better circumstances now than formerly. But what is the reason. Many have gone away to the colonies of Australia, where they dug gold, and supported their old parents. Some have gono into the mercantile service, where I was myself, and got better wages. We had no communication with the south when I was a boy almost, except with one little sloop; now we have steam communication, and the south country curers are being introduced, and there is a competition with the curers. Formerly our fish, when we were at a low rent, were at 3s. 4d. per cwt. for ling, 2s. 6d. for tusk, and Is. 8d. for cod. That continued untd our land rent was paid for with fish, and then we had 8d. more on each cwt. that we caught over, which was often very little. The boats were weak and puny, and the gear was different. The gear was handed down from our forefathers; it was coarse. We had not the same boats or oars or the means of getting them, and he was a lucky man who got in a sixern five tons of fish in the summer months. Mr Bruce brought boats from the south. My father brought one from Leith. There were eight men in it, and Mr Bruce fitted it out and found everything. What was realised from the herring was somewhere about 2s. 8d. a cran to each of the eight men. It is not in consequence of the better treatment or lower rents, or better holdings that we are now in better circumstances. In 1849 Mr Bruce did give better houses, but we have to keep these up. He will give us lime to put on the outside, but we must put it on. Latterly we have been refused windows and doors for the houses, and I am not aware of anybody being allowed to take them away or get compensation.

22200. Has anybody left lately?
—No. There was a statement made about Mr Hamilton's farm. There were four crofts put into that farm. The crofters who were put out all got holdings in the island; and scarcely any have been put off for giving short rent. Just one man lately, and he got a fine chance. They said, 'Take what you have and go’ and he would not, but he went and built a mud cabin on the hill and lived there. There was a disagreement between the proprietor and the man who was evicted from his holding. He was, in some way, refractory so far as I know.

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