Raefirth, Mid Yell, 14 July 1883 - Rev James A. Campbell

JAMES A. CAMPBELL, Minister, Fetlar (38)—examined.

18657. The Chairman.
—Are there any delegates present from your district?
—No. After intimation was received that the Commissioners were to come here, a meeting of the people was called and some nine or ten appeared. 1 explained to them the object of the Commission, and pressed them greatly to attend and give evidence, but none of them would consent to come, partly, perhaps, because they did not like, and partly because they would have a feeling in speaking in regard to the proprietor before the Commission. On my suggestion another meeting was called shortly after that on a Saturday night, when the fishermen were home from sea, so that all who cared to be present might be there. I could not be present as I had to be at Lerwick; but at that meeting no definite conclusion was come to. When I returned I pressed them individually—privately, some of them—to attend and state what were their grievances, and what they thought would be for the benefit of the crofters; and none of them would agree to come. Last night when I heard the meeting was to be to-day, I tried three or four of them, and two specially. One of the two agreed to come on condition that another would, but the other would not come, and I have come myself. I am sorry none of the islanders have come themselves.

18658. How far is your parish from Raefirth?
—Seven miles by sea, it is the island which was on your right when coming up the sound.

18659. As you are here we will ask you to give evidence first. How long have you been settled at Fetlar?
—Two years in September next.

18660. From what part of the country do you come—are you a native of Shetland?

18661. From what part of Scotland do you come —where were you born and brought up?
—The Isle of Man; but I only lived the first fourteen years of my life there. I had charge of a chapel of ease at Quarter near Hamilton, in a mining district.

18662. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You are a Scotsman?
—Yes, by parentage.

18663. You consider yourself a Scotsman?
—I suppose so.

18664. The Chairman.
—Since you have been settled at the manse of Fetlar, have you been at all engaged in agriculture—have you a glebe which you cultivate yourself?
—I have a glebe and cultivate it myself.

18665. Have you a large glebe?
—It is about ten or twelve rnerks; and there is some scathold in connection with it.

18666. Have you any statement you would like to make spontaneously respecting the condition of the people—first with reference to their husbandry and agriculture, and then with reference to their fishing?
—In regard to the agricultural pursuits, they are really very limited, the most of them just have what you could call small crofts, which are worked in a primitive way. They dig their crofts with the spade—they have no horses capable of ploughing —and the consequence is that there is a great deal of work entailed upon the women. In regard to the oats and potatoes which they sow, a great many of them have been sowing the same seed which they were using twenty-five years ago in oats and potatoes.

18667. Do they observe any systematic rotation?
—Yes, I believe some of them plant turnips year after year on the same ground, and have done so for upwards of nine or ten years together. As regards oats and potatoes the ground is varied, but many keep a piece of ground for turnips and sow them there year after year.

18668. Do they put the land which they sow in oats and potatoes alternately into pasture and keep it in pasture any time?
—They leave it fallow, but they do not put it on grass; if they sowed grass they would not get the benefit of it. It is left to grow what will grow upon it, but it is left fallow.

18669. There is a good deal of it left fallow in that way ?
—Yes, there is I suppose from a quarter to a third of the land left in that way.

18670. Do you hear it alleged that the land is less productive—that average production is smaller than in the olden times?
—I have heard several say the potato crop is not only worse as regards disease, but that the bulbs are smaller.

18671. Have you heard it alleged of the oats that the return is smaller?
—I don't remember distinctly at this time of any person saying that; but the Shetland oats, as sown in Fetlar, are an exceedingly poor crop —exceedingly short.

18672. How many grains would be considered a satisfactory return in the season—an ordinary average return?
—If they get a return of nine they would consider it good.

18673. Of oats?

18674. That would be good in a poor district of Scotland?
—Well, they consider that extra good.

18675. Do you think they get in an average season more than five or six?
—I don't think they do.

18676. Have you heard it stated that they sometimes don't get more than three?
—Sometimes they hardly know what they get, it is so short, and so poor; I have heard people say that.

18677. But still you think five or six must be set down as an average?
—Well, last year was a very good year in Fetlar at least, and I think they would set it down at six last year; but it was a very good year.

18678. Do you hear any complaints of progressive subdivision of the crofts ?
—No, not of late, it has not been done of late.

18679. Is there any movement towards fencing or enclosing as between croft and croft?
—None whatever.

18680. Is there any movement towards the fencing of the hill pasture from the pasture of the adjacent holdings, or adjacent townships or farms—are there any wire fences being put up?
—There was one wire fence put up in the east part of the country lately, but, as a rule, there has been no fencing since the late proprietor—Sir Arthur Nicolson—died. In the latter part of his life he did fence in scathold and make parks for private purposes, in which people were not allowed to graze.

18681. But where common pasture or scathold exists in its original form, is it generally fenced with a wire fence, or open to adjacent scathold?
—There is no wire fencing; there are what they call small turf dykes.

18682. But there are such round the scathold generally?
—There are.

18683. And are they effective in preventing the stock of one scathold going on to another?
—If an animal were so inclined they would not keep it in; but I don't hear any complaint of the animals of one hamlet getting into another scathold.

18684. Are there any large tacks or farms?
—No, none; I think the largest is the farm of Salter.

18685. There are no large sheep farms whatever?

18686. Do you think that the fencing of the different crofts or holdings from each other would be an important element of improvement?
—Personally I think it would, but I cannot speak for the islanders; many of them, I believe, are against it.

18687. What reason do they allege against fencing between themselves?
—It is very difficult to get a reason, simply, I suppose, because they have been so long accustomed to being without fences.

18688. You say that without fences it is impossible to have improved crofts?
—Well, no person would sow grass unless they were sure they would get the benefit of it j if they sowed it in grass their neighbours would get as much benefit as themselves, because after the crop is cut the animals are turned loose to winter over the crofts and scathold as they please.

18689. If there were fences erected between the different holdings, what ought those fences to be—would turf dykes be sufficient, or should they be substantial stone walls?
—Really I could hardly say. My own opinion would be that a wire fence would be sufficient. A stone dyke would be more permanent and probably better, but I think a wire fence would probably do. In regard to the scathold being taken under the late Sir Arthur Nicolson, the present liferenter—Lady Nicolson —has not in her day, I believe, curtailed the pasture at all. The complaint the people make now of having their pasture shortened is owing to what was done by the late Sir Arthur, not by the present liferenter.

18690. But when the scathold pasture is taken in and subdivided and formed into allotments, how is that done —is it done on the instigation of, and on the proposal of the landlord? I understand that the scathold is a common pasture in its original form?

18691. Then it is sometimes, in virtue of an order of the court, taken in and subdivided, and fences put up, and then those different portions are appropriated to the different occupiers. It was not an allocation of scathold at all, but simply that when the proprietor wished to run a dyke across he would do so, and enclose in it what he called the park on his own scathold which had been before the privilege of the islanders to use. This was an alienation or reduction of the area of common pasture?
—Yes; it was done by the late proprietor and not by the present liferenter.

18692. There are three proprietors?-
—Yes, and Lord Zetland and Lady Nicolson are the principal ones.

18693. Has there been any formal allocation of common pasture?
—I think not. It has been between the various proprietors—between Lord Zetland and Lady Nicolson, and there was a subdivision there.

18694. And there has been no allocation of common pasture between the small occupiers?

18695. Is it within your experience that such allocation has taken place elsewhere—a subdivision of common pasture amongst common occupiers ?
—No, it has not

18696. Besides fencing is there any other proposal for improvement that you can make?
—Some tenants would like a lease, and others again would not. But again, if you take my opinion, I think a lease would be much more satisfactory, because when a man came to find he had a hold on his property for a number of years he would be much more inclined to put his land in good order and keep his house tidy; although, at the same time, there has not been in Lady Nicolson's time any removal of any tenant so far as I am aware.

18697. In recommending leases would you prefer that the conditions and duration of the leases should be left to the occupier and the landlord, or do you think that there might be a legislative enactment which would give the people generally the right to claim a lease of a number of years—nineteen or twenty-one years or whatever it was?
—That is a question I can hardly answer. I should certainly be inclined to suggest that, in the event of legislation, leases should not be for less than a certain time.

18698. If there were a lease under legislation, what is the length of lease you would be inclined to suggest.
—I would not be inclined to allow a lease to be given under nine years.

18699. What do you think would be the best length of lease?
—That is a very difficult question to answer indeed.

18700. With reference to the breed of cattle, has there been in your island any attempt to alter or improve the breed?
—Well, unless, perhaps, at the manse and on Lady Nicolson's own estate, I do not think there has been, and some of the cattle are of a very small kind.

18701. In what direction has the improvement been at the manse and the estate?
—By the introduction of new blood.

18702. What blood?
—Crossing Shetland cattle with south country cattle.

18703. Ayrshires or shorthorns?
—Shorthorns, I think. And then the proprietor gets cattle brought into the island, and they remain, and
those on the island cross with them, and they are left very much to run, themselves, on the hill.

18701. Have any of the West Highland breed been introduced?
—Not so far as I know.

18705. Do you think there is any reason why a heavier or larger class of cattle might not be generally got?
—I do not know any reason and I have advocated it with the islanders. I don't think the difference in food would be so much, and even if they only kept one animal for three just now, they would have a better chance of getting a good price than by keeping the small cattle.

18706. And are those small cattle ever sold for exportation to the Scotch market?
—They are sold to buyers of cattle who come to Fetlar and purchase from the islanders.

18707. And carry them to the mainland?
—I suppose they do.

18708. Not only to the Lerwick or the native market?
—No, I think they are taken south.

18709. Are they generally sold at one or two years old?
—Generally three years old.

18710. What sort of prices are got?
—From £3 to £7 for three-year olds.

18711. Do you think a much better and heavier description of stock could be raised in the islands which would sell at a higher price?
—I think so, for Fetlar is a fertile island, and there is a good pasture over it.

18712. How would you provide wintering food for them?
—By having larger crofts.

18713. How do you propose to extend the area of the crofts—you say there are no large farms?
—There are no large farms, but there is plenty unused ground which is quite arable, I believe, and a great deal, without very much drainage, would grow excellent oats and potatoes. Fetlar is a very fertile island.

18714. Mr Cameron.
—Do most people in your parish engage in fishing operations while the season lasts?
—A few go to the fishing, but at the present time, I think, there are only five boats in the island engaged in fishing. The fishing station is on the most exposed part of the island facing the south-east.

18715. Is there a want of accommodation or only poor accommodation?
—There is no accommodation at all in the way of a pier.

18716. Can you suggest any mode by which the fishing industry might be improved?
—Unless Uyea or Rostar there is no other place where a pier could be placed except at very great expense. But I believe, at this place a pier could be built without very great cost. At one of these places there are remains of an old pier, which would not take very much to be put right for a fishing station.

18717. Has that ever been made the subject of remark by the people themselves?

18718. How many boats are there engaged in the fishing trade through the island?
—Five at present.

18719. Might there be more according to the population?
—I think there might if they had only money to get them.

18720. How many families are there in the island?
—I could not tell you —the population, I think, is 425.

18721. Probably fifty or sixty?
—Between seventy and eighty families I think.

18722. And only five boats?
—Yes, but there are a few men fishing in other places —at Unst and Mid Yell.

18723. And those five boats take a crew of from six to eight men?
—They hold six; because there is no accommodation, in the meantime, for large boats at the island.

18724. At what age do lads begin to go to sea?
—About fifteen and upwards.

18725. Do you find their going to sea interferes with their education?
—No, whether they go to sea or not they generally leave school about the age when they need not go, after thirteen.

18726. Is education, in the district, on a satisfactory footing?
—Yes, it is. The teacher, just now, is leaving his house, and although he has not presented many pupils, he has passed, I think, for the last three years 100 per cent.

18727. Does the School Board work harmoniously?
—Very. There are three members in Fetlar, and four in North Yell.—seven altogether.

18728. Are the farms in Fetlar of the same size, one with another, or do they vary in size?
—With the exception of the one which I said was ten acres, most of them will run from three to five merks or acres —a merk is generally about an acre.

18729. From three to five merks, and hill pasture besides?

18730. What number of cattle do they keep?
—Principally two milk cows and two or three growing up to sell; those of them who are fairly prosperous have been doing that.

18731. And ponies?
—They have all some ponies, and need them for bringing home their fuel.

18732. Do they breed ponies?
—Yes, from time to time. They sell ponies, and that is about the chief means they have of making their rent.

18733. Where do they sell them?
—Fetlar, I believe, has a good name for ponies, and people I believe come into the island from other places and purchase them.

18734. Are there dealers who come and buy ponies as they do cattle?
—Well, you might call them dealers. There are people who come and traffic a good deal with the farmers.

18735. I mean do they come to the island and buy a lot of ponies and take them away?
—Yes, they have done that since I came to Fetlar.

18736. And the tenants may expect the same men to come round each year?
—I could not say as to that. I have only been two years in the island, and there have been several different people coming in that time.

18737. But there is a good market for ponies?
—Yes, there is no difficulty.in disposing of the ponies.

18738. Do they keep sheep on the hill ground?
—A very few of them may have a few sheep, but I don't think many of them keep many.

18739. Arc the sheep of the old breed thoso which produce fine wool?
—I don't think there is one in Fetlar now; they are all cheviots and cross breeds.

18740. But you heard that there used to be an old breed of Shetland sheep in the island?
—There was, and there are some that come pretty near the breed yet. They are small and fine, but as a rule the sheep kept have at least a good deal of Cheviot blood in them.

18741. I suppose there is not much knitting industry in Fetlar?
—Oh, yes, the young women knit, they have a good deal of difficulty in finding a market.

18742. Where do they get the wool?
—They buy it from their neighbours in the other islands.

18743. Do you believe the old breed of Shetland sheep is dying out?
—I think there is no doubt of it.

18744. If the knitting industry is flourishing how do you account for the sheep not keeping up their character?
—I cannot say that the knitting industry is flourishing. The girls have a great deal of digging in the seed time and a great deal of harrowing, and mainly attend to the bringing home of the potatoes; and they work a great deal in the harvest, so that their time is greatly taken up. If they had nothing to do but knit they would make a good thing of it, but they have not time.

18745. Owing to the people having so little time to knit, they find it more profitable to give up the old breed of Shetland sheep, and take a more profitable breed for the purpose of selling wool and raising mutton?
—I question if they had that aim when the other sheep were brought in. The other sheep were brought in by accident, and were crossed by accident.

18746. What is the average rent paid for these crofts?
—Of that I cannot speak, but I think the land, so far as I have heard the tenants say, is fairly and reasonably rented.

18747. Professor Mackinnon.
—Who is the third proprietor in Zetland?
—One Thomas Jamieson.

18748. Were the scathold lands in Fetlar divided between him and the Earl of Zetland and Lady Nicolson?
—Between Lord Zetland and Lady Nicolson only lately.

18749. Not with Mr Jamieson?
—Not so far as I know.

18750. You said there were no large farms in the islands, but that Sir Arthur Nicolson had cut off the scathold, and put sheep upon it?
—Sheep and cattle and ponies.

18751. What number of sheep and cattle did he put upon the scathold?
—I can hardly tell you.

18752. A hundred?
—Much more than that; they are grazing on different parts of his property.

18753. Would that not constitute something like a large farm?
—Well, if you speak of the home farm, that is so; but when I said there was no large farm I spoke of the tenantry.

18754. The home farm is a large farm?
—It is not a farm at all; it is unenclosed.

18755. But it is good land which would be capable of cultivation?
—A very great deal of it—almost the whole island is capable of cultivation.

18756. Is the larger part of the island in the possession of the proprietor?
—The present proprietor is only liferenter I suppose, but the land belonged to Sir Arthur Nicolson.

18757. Does the home farm contain a larger portion of Lady Nicolson's property, or do the tenants occupy the greater portion?
—I rather think there is more of the land under her own control than there is occupied by the tenantry.

18758. You mentioned turnips were cultivated, year after year, on one bit of land?
—I know that for nine or ten years that has been so.

18759. Is the piece of ground enclosed?

18760. Why do they repeat the turnip crop?
—I dont know; I suppose because their fathers did it before them.

18761. Is it more highly manured then the rest of the land?
—No, I think they manure their land fairly well with the limited amount of stock they have to feed.

18762. Is there any disease in their turnip crop?
—Last year in many places there was a good deal of finger-and-toe.

18763. You said a number of them objected to fence; do you know the reason of that?
—I don't know.

18764. Have you ever heard it objected to wire fences that while they kept the big sheep in, they allowed the small sheep to get through?
—No, I never heard that objection taken to them. I believe if you were calling twenty of the islanders who did object to it, they could not give a definite reason why they objected.

18765. You said a merk of land was more a measure of value than a size; is there any difference between the merk of land and the quantity of stock you can winter upon it?
—As a rule, a merk is about an acre.

18766. In Fetlar?
—Throughout Shetland, I think, a merk is near an acre.

18767. Should a merk of land winter a cattle beast?
—Well, it will do no more; do you mean between giving a little grass and oats?

18768. Yes. I suppose there is pasture outside in summer?
—You mean a merk of land along with scathold?

18769. Yes; but the scathold goes free with the merk lands?

18770. Therefore a merk of land should keep a beast?
—Yes, at least with a good deal of scathold—a fair amount of scathold.

18771. In Fetlar there is not a fair amount of scathold?
—That is the main complaint, that their scathold is too small, and they are obliged to graze their cattle on their grass?
—They must keep fewer cattle; they cannot graze on the croft because there is no grass. Unless they have grass on the scathold they cannot graze on the croft, unless they let them graze on the grain itself.

18772. Are any people in Fetlar restricted in the sale of cattle or fish to any person?
—No, I think they are free to sell to whom they please.

18773. They are not restricted either in purchasing from particular shops?
—No. There are three merchants, and any one in the island is free to go to either of these, and out of the island if he pleases.

18774. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have said that the population of Fetlar is about 425?
—I think it is about that.

18775. Has it been increasing or decreasing in the last twenty or thirty years?

18776. Rapidly?
—I could hardly say rapidly, but it certainly is decreasing.

18777. Decreasing steadily?
—I think it is.

18778. What is the cause of that?
—Well, a good many of the younger men now find they can do better away from Fetlar than they can in it; there is nothing for them to do in it, unless they go to the fishing, and the fishing is not very much in the meantime.

18779. Have you any idea of the acreage of the island?
—No, I have not. I think the island is about 5½ miles long by 3 miles wide, but it is greatly eaten in with bights.

18780. You have stated that the island is very fertile : how many acres do you suppose could be reclaimed and put under cultivation by the plough or spade; could the present area of cultivation be doubled or trebled or quadrupled ?
—I believe it could be quadrupled, at least. You seldom come, except upon hilly ground, on land which is not arable, or which could not easily be made arable; and then from the formation of the surface, it is quite evident that in former years a great deal of ground had been cultivated which is now in grass.

18781. Who is in possession of that land—is it in the proprietor's hands ?
—No, hot more so than in the hands of the tenants as scathold for meadow ground..

18782. What was the object of the late proprietor in forming these parks, and taking away so much of the scathold ?
—I can only speak from hearsay. His opinion was that this land would pay him better if he converted
it into sheep farms.

18783. How many people might have been removed at that time, or were there any?
—Of course, that was long before my day, and I can hardly say; but as I have heard old islanders state that thirty years ago there were nearly 1000 people in the island, and they did not require to import corn, but could export it.

18784. Have you any idea what is the value of the land which is now in the occupancy of the proprietrix according to the valuation roll?
—I don't know.

18785. Are you aware that, generally speaking, the land in the proprietor's hands is put in lower than if it were under rental ?
—No, I am not aware of that.

18786. Are the people now in the island—the diminished population—in a position to take more land and get their crofts increased?
—Some of them would be, and others I don't think could do so unless they were aided; some of them are what you would say very poor. There are a few who are in fairly easy circumstances as crofters.

18787. You have stated there has been some hesitation on the part of the people to come forward, and you have done your part by more than once suggesting that they should come—what is the reason of the hesitancy?
—The people seem to have a feeling in case they might be called upon to state anything which might injure them with the proprietor; that is my own idea; and some of them might not come owing to backwardness.

18788. Are the people of Shetland rather of a timid disposition ?
—I don't think so. There are different meanings to the word timid. As regards going to sea, they have no fear; but they might have a feeling if they were holding a small croft, and coming forward to give evidence.

18789. I don't mean timid as sailors and boatmen?
—Well, as regards that being so, I don't know; but I believe some of them might not care to come forward, in case they might be called upon to make a statement which would reflect upon the proprietor. I said I thought they would not be pressed to make any statement of that kind.

18790. Who represents the proprietrix in the island ?
—Mr Colin Arthurson.

18791. Where does he live?
—At Still, in Fetlar.

18792. Has Lady Nicolson any other property except this?
—I believe she has property near Lerwick.

18793. Has anybody got a lease on the island at all ?
—There is not a lease on the island.

18794. Are there any improvements going on amongst the crofters, so far as you can observe ?

18795. Did you ever hear of anybody improving that had no lease, or no fixity of tenure ?
—No, I cannot say I have.

18796. Would you be disposed yourself to lay out your money in improving a place, if you were liable to be removed at next Whit-Sunday ?
—I can only speak for myself. If I had not a hold, I would not have done so much as I have done.

18797. Is there, at this moment, an importation going on of meal and other things to the island ?
—Every fortnight

18798. From what you stated a little ago, do you believe it to be correct that, when there was a population of nearly 1000, nothing was imported ?
—No meal was imported, and they exported to neighbouring islands; I have been told that by several old inhabitants.

18799. Is there anything in the way of change of climate or otherwise that would make the raising of crop now different from what it was before; are the seasons getting worse ?
—Not so far as I have heard. I have heard them say that last summer was as fine as any that the oldest inhabitant remembered.

18800. You spoke about nine returns, was that very figure of nine communicated or mentioned to you?
— No, it was my own experience of what I had myself. I had seed from the south, and that was counted an exceedingly good return.

18801. I suppose the glebe is not very much better soil than other parts of the island ?
—It is good soil, but not very much better than the soil round about it. The old minister used the plough, and it is possible the ground may be better wrought.

18802. Can you give any idea what proportion in acreage is in the proprietor's own hands, or in the home farm, as distinguished from the land in the hands of the tenants ?
—As I said before, I think the acreage under cultivation might be quadrupled.

18803. But how much of the estate of Lady Nicolson is in her own hands, and how much of it is in the hands of small tenants; what proportion? You said there was more you thought in the hands of Lady Nicolson ?
—I should think, from what I see myself, she has more than half, but still it would require an old islander who knew the island better than I do to say.

18804. Of the 425 people upon the island, how many may be upon the Nicolson estate, can you say?
—I should say two-thirds.

18805. The Chairman.
—Is there any other remark you would like to make?
—I would just say that, as far as I know, the great desire of the islanders is more scathold; many of them desire a lease, and many of them would certainly take a larger holding than they have got, and for a term of years.

18806. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—And they are able to do it ?
—A few might, and others would do it if they got a little assistance. I don't think there is any general complaint of the rents; want of scathold is the great thing. I may state that many people complain of the addition made to their rents when repairs were executed upon the church or manse at the present time. That was called church rate, and amounts to 5s. The crofters and heritors are bound to keep up both church and manse, but, in point of fact, the above system makes the crofter do it. The people thought the rate might at least be removed in a few years, but it has become permanent.

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