JOHN OMAND, Crofter and Fisherman, Mid Yell (57)—examined.
(See Appendix A, LI.)
18807. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Have you been chosen by a number of the people to come here to-day ?
—I was asked if I would come, and I asked another man if he would come and he would not, and therefore I came.
18808. How many met to choose you?
—-About sixteen, I think.
18809. What did they wish you to state?
—In the first place, I should like a Government valuation put upon the property we are now occupying; the rental is too high.
18810. That is the wish of the people who sent you here?
—Yes; and secondly, an improvement in the homesteads and houses we live in; that they may be made more comfortable than they are at the present time.
18811. Anything further?
—And then, at least upon the property that we occupy, that we won't be turned off at any time the proprietor wishes.
18812. What length of lease do you desire?
—As long as we could get—ten or twenty or thirty years.
18813. What is the name of the property on which you live?
18814. Who is the proprietor?
18815. What rent do you pay ?
—1 pay £10.
18816. For how much ground?
—Three and a half acres of cultivated ground—that is, taxes and all.
18817. And what scathold rights have you with that?
—I could not say the extent of scathold, but it is very small indeed.
18818. What stock do you keep?
—About six head of cattle is all we can keep, young and old together.
18819. No horses?
—Yes, we have four ponies.
18820. And sheep?
—I think we have about eighteen head of sheep on the scathold.
18821. What quantity of crop do you get from the croft—potatoes and oats?
—The quantity is small indeed, and would not do to support a family if it were not for the grain we get from the south country.
18822. How long would it support you?
—Three months would be the outside of it, and sometime not that. Some years we have to take the greater part of the crop to give to the cattle to save them.
18823. Do you do anything to your house yourself, or is it found by the proprietor?
—It used to be found by the proprietor, but now he won't do anything unless we do it ourselves. When we came to the house—it is merely a house of four rooms—we had to do the inside of it for ourselves. The lady tried to tighten the roof, but it is not tight yet; and we are thinking if we could get a lease we would put up a roof upon it ourselves.
18824. What kind of roof has it?
—A slate roof; but it has been standing, I believe, upwards of fifty or sixty years.
18825. You have a slated house of four rooms, but damaged?
—Yes, it is damaged.
18826. You have a byre?
18827. And stable?
—No, no stable; the ponies lie out all winter. A few may have stables, but we never had any.
18828. Is the byre slated?
18829. Have you to keep the thatch up yourselves?
—Of course we do. We build byres and barns to ourselves.
18830. But not the dwelling house?
—No; it was always considered that the proprietors should do that.
18831. How long have you been there?
—Only five years in this place.
18832. And it was a bad house when you came to it?
—It was going to decay in the inside.
18833. Where did you come from?
—The island of Unst
18834. What induced you to come here and take a dear place without a lease?
—Rise of rents where I came from. I was away for a long time out of the country. The most of my life has been spent in the south, I was away for a long time, and when I came home the town I was then living in was paying £16 yearly. There were three small crofts, and I went to the proprietor of Fetlar, and offered to take the whole town at the same rent, and he then raised the rent £8 more on the town, and then I would not take it. The result of the thing was I had to go to Major Cameron and take a croft from him in North Yell, and removing all my effects from the place I was residing in on to Major Cameron's property cost me over £50. I went there, and took a farm from him for £7, 10s. of rent. The first two years I settled the rent with him myself, but the next three years I was on the property he put his lands into the hands of the factor Mr Walker, and the rent he took from me was £8 —that was 10s. of a rise; the second rent he took was £9, 16s., and the third rent was £14; and then I had to fly from there again, and go from there to the island of Unst, and take a farm from the major again. There was no other proprietor I could get one from, and I went to Unst and took a farm at £7, 10s. I was there nine years, and after the improvements I made on the property,—over £50 worth,—the rent was raised to £9, 10s., and I left and came here. That is the way I have been served in Shetland.
18835. You have accounted for fifteen years or so ?
18836. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Was this Mr Walker John Walker?
—Yes; there are not many under the British flag who do not know him.
18837. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—At present you are not complaining of the rent, or anything since you have taken this place?
—No. Of course I think the rent rather high for the ground I occupy.
18838. The rent may be raised upon you any day?
—It might be. They can do anything they think proper. As for Lady Budge, I do not think there are many like her in Shetland; she has used her tenants well.
18839. What notice did you get of this rise of rent from Mr Walker?
—I never got notice at all until I came to pay the rent.
18840. And then he asked you for more for that same year?
—For that same year.
18841. And had you the extra money in your pocket?
—No, I had to go and get the loan of the money until I came home. I had to go two miles from the place where I settled with him, and had to borrow money from another until I could pay it back.
18842. About this house you are inhabiting —a slated house of four rooms—what is the cost of building a house of that kind?
—I could not say what it might be worth.
18843. Can you build a house of that sort for £100?
—I do not doubt but 1 could.
18844. It would take all that?
—It would take nothing short of that, I should think. But that was a house built over fifty years ago. It was built first for the proprietor, who used it for keeping his boat gear, and shal and fish, and so on.
18845. One of your demands is for improved houses; if the proprietor were putting up houses of that sort upon crofts worth £3 or £4 or £5, what rent would you expect him to draw for the house?
—The small crofts the Shetland people are occupying could not afford to build houses like it; but, at the same time, such houses as the people in Shetland would like, would be a house of about 30 by 12, with a 7 feet wall, and a wooden roof, with felt. It would answer as well as slate, and be lighter.
18846. What would that cost?
—I could not exactly say. Some here know; but I do not think it would exceed about £50 to build it. If
the proprietor built the walls and put on the roof, the tenant would do the inside of it for himself—that is, with the expectation of having a lease on the property and knowing that he would not be turned away. I have done up four houses myself in my time, and I have had enough of it.
18847. Professor Mackinnon.
—Are all the people on Lady Budge's property fishing as well as crofting?
—Yes, all fishing.
18848. Who is the factor?
—There is no factor over the property; every tenant pays the rent to herself.
18849. Does she stay in the country?
—Over there in the big house at the other side. She just takes the rents as they can give it.
18850. You say you fish yourself, are you engaged in herring fishing just now?
18851. With one of the large boats ?
18852. Whom do you fish for?
—-Mr Walker there.
18853. What is the arrangment between the curer and the crew with reference to their boats?
—I am fishing with Mr Walker's boat, but we deliver the fish to Mr Mackay at the station. We have Mr Walker's boat, but he is not curing the fish; Mr Mackay cures the fish.
18854. And Mr Walker hires the boat to you ?
18855. And the whole crew share alike in the gain?
—The half share of the fish goes to the crew, and the owner of the boat and nets gets the other half.
18856. And he keeps the boat and nets in repair?
—Yes, and we have the half share of the fish, and he the other half.
18857. And then you sell the fish to the curer?
—Yes, to Mr Mackay.
18858. You choose your own curer?
—Of course that is the man we fish to; that is the man Mr Walker tells us fish to.
18859. Then does Mr Walker choose your curer?
—Yes, of course; the boat and nets are his, and we fish as half-catch men, and he sells the herring to Mr Mackay.
18860. His herring and yours?
—Yes, both of course.
18861. Whom do you take your stores from?
—-We are at liberty to take them from any one we like.
18862. Whom do you take them from?
—From Mr Walker or any other we wish to go to. If we did not wish to go to his store, we would get
money from him to go to another and buy. That is one good job, we are not confined to any one more than another.
18863. Do you know what is the rule when a boat is bought by a crew, upon what terms is it paid back?
—I am not in the way of going into the buying, and cannot say.
18S64. Do you fish for cod and ling as well as herring?
—I used to. But not this year.
18865. But the owner of the boat provides gear for the deep sea fishing as well?
—Just the same. I have been fishing for five years to a man in North Yell, and he provides the boat and lines.
18866. Are you able to land more fish with these big boats?
—It depends on where we are fishing; of course, we can fish the ling fishing in them as well as in the small boats, and with more safety, I should think; only if I had been going to the ling fishing again, I would prefer the old sixern. It is more handy in the way I have been used to; at the same time a big boat gives more safety.
18867. But hi the herring fishing, you can carry a great many more nets with the big boats?
—Yes, you have a better chance of herring fishing in a big boat than in a smaller one.
18868. You fish more herring with a big boat, and you are safer?
18869. It is the same crew—a crew of six in the big boat, as well as in
the small boat?
18870. Who cured the cod and ling last year?
18871. Was that since you came here?
18872. Had he a station here?
—No, but in North Yell.
18873. How far is that from here?
—Eight or nine miles.
18874. You would have to stay there at the fishing?
—We went on the Monday, and came home every Saturday. It was from that station there were so many boats cast away three years ago.
18875. Were you there at that time?
—Yes, I was at sea that very day.
18876. Where do you get the herring this season?
—Out at the north end of this island, the north firth.
18877. Right out between Unst and the mainland?
18878. A good bit away from here?
—Yes, a good bit; and we have bad tides to contend with going through Blue Mull Sound. There have
been plenty of fish caught there this year.
18879. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You stated you had only three and a half acres of arable land?
18880. Do you want more?
—We would make improvements for ourselves if we got a lease.
18881. But you want more?
—Yes, we would improve it for ourselves; we have plenty of surface inside.
18882. Is there plenty of land in your neighbourhood which could be taken in if you got it?
—Yes, there is plenty in the enclosure.
18883. How many tenants has Lady Budge altogether?
18884. Are they all in the same position as yourself, wanting to get more land?
—I am not aware as to that. There is so much scathold enclosed with arable ground inside the fence, that any man who wishes to add to his property by cultivating, can do so; he is at liberty to do so.
18885. But you won't do it untd you get a lease?
—No, I would like some security so that I would get the good of my labour.
18886. You are tired of being knocked about from place to place. Have you applied to her Ladyship for a lease?
—Well, yes, I asked her once about it, and I did not think she was very willing to give one; but at
the same time she said her word was as good as her bond, and I said while she was alive I believed neither I nor any other tenant would be turned off as long as we were of good character, but that would only be. for her life, and we did not know how long that might be.
18887. Is the property her own, or did it belong to her husband?
—Her husband bought it, and I think she is the liferenter now.
18888. Is she a native of Shetland?
18889. You stated it was necessary for you to buy so much meal in the year, the croft don't support. How much are you obliged to buy on an average?
—Some years it will cost us £10 or £12.
18890. Are you obliged to buy anything for your stock for the winter?
18891. Has Lady Budge anything in her own hands; has she a home farm?
—Just a little croft along with the house.
18892. What is the biggest rent paid by any of her tenants?
—I pay the largest.
18893. Was it raised when you went in?
—No, it was before I went in it was raised. The original rent was far from that; I think it was £5.
18894. And the house was then new?
—No, I don't mind of the house being built, and know nothing about the building of the house. The
house must have been built sixty years ago at least.
18895. We have been told that some of the tenants object to fencing, do you know that this the case?
—I am not aware of it. I would approve of fencing every one's piece of ground.
18896. Do you know that some fencing will keep out Cheviot sheep, but will not keep out the Shetland sheep?
—I am aware of that. The Shetland sheep are so small that they would get in between the run of the wire.
18897. Unless it is a very close fence, it is of no value to the small tenant who has native sheep?
—Not at all.
18898. You stated a number of different places jrou removed to when your rent was raised, where a number of people were treated in the same way as well as yourself?
—Yes, on the same property —on Major Cameron's property.
18899. What is the name of the property?
18900. Where does it lie?
—It is in North Yell and Unst and on the mainland of Deeling. That piece of his property was thrown waste for a sheep farm at the time Mr John Walker had it.
18901. Is it still under sheep farms?
18902. Were many people turned out?
—Yes, I should say there were about thirty or forty families turned out —something simdar to what Fetlar is now. There were about thirty houses thrown to waste on Fetlar at the time Sir Arthur Nicolson made the sheep farm, which he thought would pay him better.
18903. How long is it since this occurred on Major Cameron's property?
—Seventeen or eighteen years ago.
18904. What became of the people?
—They had to look after themselves, and they all got settled down again. Some came here to Lady
Budge's property, and some went to the estate of West Sandwick, and some went over to places in North Yell, and some to the island of Unst.
18905. Were there any other cases in this neighbourhood of sheep farms being made except these two?
—Salter and Windhouse have been wasted, to my mind.
18906. And there were people there at one time?
18907. Wore these good fertile places?
—So far as I am aware of, they were as good as any other of the places now occupied.
18908. Is the population in your neighbourhood increasing or decreasing?
—It has decreased from what it formerly was.
18909. Within your own recollection?
18910. But is that from people being put away or going away?
—By people being turned from it, and it laid down for sheep farm purposes.
18911. Are the people as fond of their homes here as they are in the mainland and islands of Scotland?
—I believe they are, so far as I know.
18912. A good number of them go to sea, and go to all parts of the world?
—Yes, they are through every part of the world mostly now. I have been in a good many places myself, and have found Shetland people there.
18913. But they would like to comeback?
—Some do, but some go away and settle down and make homesteads in the colonies. I would never have come to Shetland again, if it had not been to seeing to my parents.
18914. Was that because you were knocked about?
—No, but I thought I could make more use of my money, and more use of my time abroad.
18915. What is the best country you have been in?
—I could not say one place more than another of the colonies. At sea every place was alike to me, but Victoria was the place I would have approved of.
18916. Are many people from Shetland there?
—A great many.
18917. Are they doing well, those who went?
—Mostly, those I know of.
18918. The Chairman.
—You say there are some advantages in the larger classes of fishing boats now used?
18919. Do you think the present class of boat used is perfect, or do you think it should be made larger, or altered, or in any respect made better?
—It might be made better by putting steam into them; but the boat, in its present state, I think, is quite comfortable and safe.
18920. But you would be in favour of introducing steam?
18921. If a boat of that class were got, would it not be more difficult for fishermen to buy shares and become proprietors of the boat?
—Well, the outlay on the boat would be greater, but then, at the same time, you would have more advantage of the fishing. If you were out in calm weather with the present boats, and falling into a calm you could not save your fish; whereas, if you had steam, you would save the fish, which might be a matter of £40 or £60.
18922. Do you think there is much advantage attached by fishermen to becoming proprietors of their own boat, or do they think it better for them to remain in the position of hirers?
—I think it would be better for them to become proprietors, so that they would have the advantage of
selling the fish at the best price.
18923. Can you suggest any improvement that the Government might introduce for the sake of the fishermen?
—Well, there is one thing Government might introduce, and that is to have proper harbours of refuge in the dark nights when the boats are out, and it comes very rough weather we cannot see, and there is no light to direct us, and the men might be cast away. We have great need of a light to lead us in.
18924. You want lighthouses and harbours of refuge?
18925. Have you considered about whether there is any particular place about here where a harbour could be made?
—We have a good harbour here if we had good piers. There are curers coming down from the south making enlargements and better piers, but a light is the thing we require in this harbour in dark nights when we are coming in; once we get into the harbour we are safe enough.
18926. You said you thought it would be an improvement if the different holdings were fenced off one from another?
—I think so, according to my own idea.
18927. But what sort of fence do you think would be the best between small holdings—a wire fence, a stone fence, or a turf fence?
—I think a small wire fence would be well enough between the small crofts.
18928. But it gives no shelter?
—No, of course not.
18929. Do you think there is any advantage in a stone dyke over a wire fence?
—Well, the soil here is so deep you cannot get a proper foundation to build a stone dyke on; you have to build it on the top of a marsh.
18930. Are there many stones in the ground?
—Not where I am. There can be no sort of fence where I am except a wire fence. But there are other places where they could put up stone fences.
18931. Is there any other remark you wish to make before you retire?
18932. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—What quantity of meal do you get for £10? Do you buy it by the hundredweight?
—No, by the boll.
18933. What do you pay for it?
—Different prices; sometimes from 16s. to 18s. a boll.
18934. Wheat flour?
18935. Brown flour?
18936. And oatmeal?
—From 20s. to 25s. for a boll.
18937. This last year?
—19s. to 20s. last year.
18939. And you use flour more than oatmeal?
—Just half and half always.
18940. Professor Mackinnon.
—Do you think that if you had had a light three years ago, lives would have been saved?
—No, I don't think the light would have done any good in that way, the sea being so heavy. The loss of life mostly took place before the boats came to land. But here, in this harbour, coming in in a dark night from the fishing, there would be much good of a light to keep one off the rocks.