Raefirth, Mid Yell, 14 July 1883 - Basil Sinclair

BASIL SINCLAIR, Crofter and Fisherman, West Sandwick (42)—examined.

19208. Mr Cameron.
—What size of holding is yours?
—About four merks.

19209. Is that four acres?
—Near by that.

19210. What stock do you keep?
—Five cattle altogether; old and young.

19211. Any ponies?

19212. Any sheep?
—Half a dozen, I think.

19213. What is your rent?
—£6, 10s. exclusive of taxes.

19214. How many months a year do you occupy yourself in fishing?
—Generally about five months.

19215. Have you any partners with you in the fishing?
—There is a boat's crew.

19216. Does the boat belong to yourselves?
—Not at present.

19217. But you hope to buy the boat?
—If times would improve.

19218. Has the fishing been pretty good for the last few years?
—No, very small.

19219. How many boats are there in your district?
—Only two at the present time, but there are a good many employed in other boats.

19220. How many families ate there in your district?
—Pretty near about thirty.

19221. Are they nearly all employed in fishing?
—The most of them.

19222. Men and boys?
—Yes; of course, there are a few not.

19223. Do the women get any employment in gutting herring?
—No, there are a few of them over here, but not many.

19224. Do they attend to the farm work when the men are away?

19225. What do they do?
—Keep the ground clear and keep the weeds out of it, and attend to the cattle.

19226. How do you cultivate your farm?
—We dig it with spades.

19227. Do you harrow it?

19228. Do the women harrow it?
—Both women and men sometimes.

19229. Have you a sufficient amount of scathold for the crop that you can grow ?
—Yes, we have the full privilege of the hill pasture along with the arable ground.

19230. Are you as well off as you were a few years ago?
—Not at all; we are much aggrieved for our small boundary, and we are confined in our property. We would like a Government valuation; we think our rent too high, and we are confined in our holdings.

19231. What do you mean by that?
—Our land is lying in small. patches twenty yards square, and five or six tenants come in amongst these again, and then we have another patch, and we cannot have the benefit of it. The land is not in any one spot.

19232. You are talking of arable ground?

19233. Would it not be possible to consolidate the ground so as to give each tenant arable ground in the immediate neighbourhood of his own house?
—Quite possible.

19234. Who is your landlord?
—Mr Basil Hastie Robertson.

19235. Who is the factor?
—Mr Keith.

19236. Has any representation ever been made to them about that?

19237. What reply was given?
—The reply was that the land was to be laid out in lots, and it has been done, but we have never occupied it —we have never had the privilege of occupying it

19238. You say it has been conceded to you by Mr Keith that the land should be consolidated ?
—Yes, and it was done; but somehow or other it belongs to two different landlords; there is a Mrs Robertson, who owns some as well Basil Sinclair.

19239. Is she the wife of Mr Robertson?
—She was the wife of the late Mr Robertson, and she has a share in the property.

19240. Is the property under trust?
—I think so.

19241. And the factor manages the property for the proprietor or proprietors, whoever they may be?

19242. Explain how it is, if you applied to the factor and he made a revaluation and redistribution of the land, why that arrangement was not carried out?
—That is what we cannot exactly understand, because the proprietors apparently could not agree, as the land was mixed.

19243. If you went to the proprietors for a reduction of rent I could understand that they might not agree, but if it were merely a question of redistribution for the convenience of the people, I don't understand why the proprietors could not agree to what the factor had already sanctioned?
—-Our proprietor agreed that the land should be laid out in lots for each house by itself, but the other proprietor interfered after that was done, because, in doing so they came to occupy some of his land. The houses were mixed in amongst the others, and before the land could be laid out it interfered with the other property, and he interdicted the proceedings.

19244. Do the properties lie adjacent to one another?
—They are mixed.

19245. In fact, the arrangement could hardly be carried out without what is called an excambion or interchange of properties to consolidate the properties, and then make an arrangement to consolidate the crofts?
—That is right.

19246. Do you know if the factor has ever represented the desirability of carrying out some arrangement?

19247. Could they not agree as to the terms?
—It appears so.

19248. And the tenants are the sufferers by it?

19249. Do you know how the properties came to be so mixed up?
—Partly because the late Mr Robertson purchased some property which belonged to the Earl of Zetland and other parties, and after his death his property was in the middle of the other property, and it was heired separately.

19250. It is a very complicated arrangement?
—Yes, and we have to suffer.

19251. Has the factor never suggested any way out of the difficulty?
—Yes, he has tried what he could; but it never came to any arrangement.

19252. Does the land you occupy belong to the one proprietor or to two?
—The land I am occupying belongs to one.

19253. And is it not all together?
—Not all together. I have about thirty patches of it.

19254. Separated from each other?
—Yes; I am not sure of thirty, but there are twenty at any rate.

19255. How do you get across to the other parts—do the people give free access?
—It is a difficult matter, but we must give each other access.

19256. Do you drive carts across the other man's arable ground?
—Not carts, but wheelbarrows.

19257. And you have to walk yourselves?
—Certainly. We have got a promise that it is to be arranged better in future; but we have had that promise for the last three years, and it has never taken place; and we have very bad houses as well.

19258. Sheriff Nicolson
—You are all fishermen in West Sandwick, I suppose?
—Yes, mostly.

19259. How many men have a boat?
—Six, and sometimes five.

19260. Are any of them owners of boats?
—There is only one crew purchasing a boat just now.

19261. What is the cost of a boat with all its sails?
—One of these big boats costs from £240 to £250 new.

19262. And what will the nets cost besides ?
—Each net will cost about £3.

19263. How many nets will there be?
—According to the size of the boat—some forty and some fifty.

19264. What kind of boats are they—the same as those in Lerwick?
—Yes; some smack rigged and some lug sail boats.

19265. What is the average tonnage?
—25 to 30 tons of dead weight.

19266. Do you pursue the cod and ling fishing?
—Not this season; but I have done it in former years.

19267. Why not this season?
—Because the herring fishing commenced earlier.

19268. Have you had good herring fishing?
—Fairly, as yet.

19269. How long does it last?
—Up till about the latter part of September.

19270. What do you consider a good fishing for a boat to make?
—400 crans would be a fair fishing, and a good one 500 to 600 crans.

19271. Is there any fish-curing place at Sand wick?
—Yes, for ling and cod—a small place.

19272. Is it a good harbour?
—A fine harbour, only it is small. Heavy vessels could not very well come into it.

19273. Have you sufficient accommodation for your present boats?

19274. A good pier?
—Well, the pier is very simple just now; we can get into the pier at high water, but only then. It would be easy to have a pier there, and it would not be costly.

19275. A pier of stone and wood?
—Yes; the piers here are always made of stone and wood.

19276. Have you a sufficient supply of sea-ware for manure?
—Some seasons we get a good deal and some seasons none.

19277. Have you none except the drift sea-weed?

19278. None growing on the shores?
—A few houses have the benefit of a little, but only a few.

19279. What do you do for manure?
—We get turf.

19280. Is not that forbidden; is it not considered bad for the ground?
—No, not at all, where the ground is deep.

19281. Does the grass grow freely again?
—I lay down the surface, and take from underneath that

19282. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—How many crofters besides yourself are concerned in getting matters adjusted betwixt the two proprietors?
—I could not exactly say. I suppose there are about fourteen or fifteen situated in the same way.

19283. What is the relationship between the two proprietors?
—The late proprietor who died was the half brother, I think, of the mother of the present proprietor.

19284. But they are relations?
—Yes, very distant relations.

19285. Did you and other people join in the remonstrance to have the matter settled?
—Yes, several of us tried.

19286. Did the whole of you join and sign a paper?

19287. And that was of no use?
—We got a promise that it was to be done, and in fact, it was done; but we never got the benefit. It was marked off how it was to be done.

19288. But have you remonstrated as a body, against the delay in carrying the thing out?
—No; we did once, at the commencement.

19289. Don't you think it would be wise to meet and put in another remonstrance against delay ?
—We have given notice through Mr Keith, the factor, and he has applied for us.

19290. Do you know whether one of the proprietors has only recently come of age, and that that is the reason he could not settle the matter legally?
—He is not of age yet, and won't be for some years.
—[A Voice.—The main cause is that it is in the hands of the lawyers.]
—[Witness]. And the poor tenants suffer for it. The houses are most miserable too.

19291. The Chairman.
—Are there any of these houses in which the family and cattle are together?
—No, the cattle are by themselves.

19292. When you enter the house, do you enter by an independent door, or by the byre?
—By an independent door outside.

19293. Have you ever seen any houses in this country where the cattle and the family are under the same roof?
—Yes, I have heard of it, but I have never seen it.

19294. In this house of which you speak, are there any windows in the wall or only panes of glass?
—No, we have two small windows in the walls; but there is a portion of the present house which was handed down to me as being 140 years old, and nothing has been done to it since.

19295. Have your family been so long there?
—No, I have only been three years in my present house.

19296. But were your forefathers there?
—They resided there, not in the present houses, but close by.

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