Raefirth, Mid Yell, 14 July 1883 - Alexander Walker

ALEXANDER WALKER, Merchant, Mid Yell (28)—examined.

19394. The Chairman.
—How long have you been settled here
—Nearly four years.

19395. Were you brought up to this description of trade?

19396. What was your father?
—My father was a gardener.

19397. You are a young man to have become a trader. Were you anywhere else before being here?
—South Shields.

19398. How did you come to establish yourself in Shetland?
—My wife is a Shetlander, and I came with her and her brother to Shetland, and we started business together in West Sandwick, and then removed from there to here, and dissolved partnership.

19399. You have been here only four years?
—Yes, since 1880.

19400. Since you have established yourself here, have you found your business improving?
—Yes, but there were a great many drawbacks that kept us back.

19401. Still you say there has been some improvement?

19402. What do you deal in besides fish-curing?
—General goods of all kinds.

19403. Do you find that the people make more purchases than when you first came?
—-They do.

19404. Do they pay as well as they did?
—They pay better.

19405. They buy more and pay better'?
—They do.

19406. Do you think the condition of the people has improved within the last four years?
—It has.

19407. You said that there were drawbacks to the improvement of your trade; what are these drawbacks?
—Since I came to Shetland this is my second removal from a yearly tenancy. At Martinmas 1881, I
was removed from this place, after offering £50 for the place. I paid £35 before. I was the sitting tenant, and I offered the same rent and the same security as the man who came after me, but I had to be removed.

19408. But still you continued in Mid Yell?
—I had to build a shop for myself, and lie out of business on account of these removals. It almost ruined me. I furnished the place. I had an hotel licence, and my furniture was lying in the manse after I was in the place a year.

19409. Why didn't you apply for a lease?
—I did that, but they would not give it.

19410. When you opened shop and established yourself, how did you get ground upon which to build your shop?
—I got it from Mr George Hay of Lerwick, a different proprietor.

19411. And have you a lease now?
—No, I was promised a lease once the shop was built, and the shop was built for a little more than £100, and he charged me £16 more than the place paid before, for the £100 of outlay.

19412. You have laid out this money without a lease?
—They built the shop; I paid for the building, but they afterwards paid me.

19413. Did they pay you back in full?
—In full.

19414. Then you now sit as tenant at will?
—Tenant at will, and six-monthly rent.

19415. What is their great objection to giving a lease?
—I cannot tell. I was certainly promised a lease from Mr Hay, but he has not fulfilled that promise, and there are a great many drawbacks. I have no pier, and I am agent for the Earl of Zetland and for the Steam Navigation Co. I have to wade into the sea in carrying out my duties as agent for the steamer, while, if I had had a lease, I would have improved the place, and built a pier for myself. But how could I do so, and be turned out perhaps at the end of the year.

19416. What other drawbacks are there?
—The drawback is this, that if we do improve, we have no certainty of getting anything for improving; and we are tenants at will which is a very wrong thing. In addition, last year I had £700 worth of goods, and what was I to do with forty days’ notice in a place like Shetland? I have three fishing boats and men to supply, and it won't do for me to be without stock, especially here where we only get the steamer once a week.

19417. Have you the facilities of postal communication and telegraph?
—We have; but we have not got accommodation where we can telegraph for an article and have it in the shop by the next train. Perhaps the steamer leaving Lerwick may miss the south steamer's goods, and in that way one may miss his stuff. I cannot get goods the same as in the north of Scotland or England. The summer before last we had only two posts in the week, and in winter only one. I think in summer now there are three.

19418. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do you deal largely with the people hereabout?
—I do.

19419. Do you find them good customers ?
—I do.

19420. Are they generally able to pay fairly well?
—Yes, if we keep away from the poorer classes; plenty of them are not able to earn anything.

19421. Are there many of them not able to earn anything?
—There are a great many feeble old people.

19422. Do you give them long credit?
—Commonly we have to give it from year to year; we cannot help it, although it is safe enough. Crofters are not like people getting in money every day. They cannot sell stock more than once a year. They cannot get money unless they sell stock, and if you push them for money they have to sell their stock at a disadvantage perhaps.

19423. What sort of goods do you chiefly sell to them?
—General goods and drapery and groceries, and I buy hosiery.

19424. Do you sell meal ?
—Meal and all.

19425. Do you take fish from them?

19426. What is the system on which you take the fish,—do you pay money or goods?
—Those who require money are paid in money; some require goods, and some will take part goods and part money. That is the way commonly; but mostly now it is cash.

19427. Has there been any change in that respect within the last few years?
—No material change since I came here.

19428. Didn't there use to be more of a system of paying by goods?
—I believe so; but that was before my time.

19429. Do the people here know when the fish is taken from them what the price is to be?
—Yes, the price is the first thing asked for.

19430. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You have been here most of the day?
—I have.

19431. You have heard the evidence given by the other -witnesses?

19432. Do you agree with them, from your own observation and your conversation with the people about their complaints, that no encouragement is given by the proprietors in the neighbourhood, and that very little progress is going on?
—I believe that is so. There is little encouragement given by the proprietors.

19433. And consequently there is not the progress there might be?
—Not half.

19434. You were paying when you came here first £35, 0s. 5d. of rent ?

19435. And you were willing to give £50?
—I offered £50 when the place was advertised.

19436. What additional accommodation or buildings were given by the proprietor or included in that enlarged rent?
—None given, but a great deal taken away. I had a farm here, and it was taken from the property altogether.

19437. And there was a rise of rent?
—Yes, and a reduction of the farm.

19438. Do you consider, therefore, that these proceedings have had the effect of harassing you in business?
—I am all but alive. It has almost been my death, and nearly ruined me besides. There were six months I lay in a small place of 12 or 11 feet long and 12 feet wide, by being thrown out, and having no place to go to with my wife and children. And we had to take in £600 worth of shop goods with us.

19439. When you came here from Sandwick did you come with the purpose of developing the resources of the place, and do good to yourself?
—I did.

19440. Is there only one proprietor all along here?
—Yes, the whole way, unless the small piece of property I am on, belonging to Mr Hay.

19441. What is the name of the proprietor, and the person upon whose land you were formerly?
—It belonged to the Spences—Mr Robert Niven Spence; but he died before I came here. It was sold then to Richmond & Co., or Mr John Harrison, the present proprietor.

19442. Who occupies the store and place you had formerly?
—Mr Alexander Sandison.

19143. Does he live there?
—He does.

19144. l)ocs he carry on the same occupation as yourself?
—Not exactly; he is not interested in fishing personally. Perhaps he is interested for the proprietor for all I know.

19445. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Has he a business?
—Yes, the same as I had.

19446. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—Is that the only licensed house here?
—It is.

19447. We were told that in other places that, when fishing population is about, the licence is suspended; why is that not done here?
—I don't know : I believe it would have been in our favour if it had.

19448. You personally would not be against it if you held the licence?
—I know for a fact it would keep many a shilling in my drawer which I have to pay out. I have sixteen or eighteen fishermen in my boats, and when they come ashore they want money to get drink, and let the fishing be good or bad I have to give it to them, and it comes to be a drain upon me.

19449. What rent are you now paying?
—£20, with taxes.

19450. Mr Cameron.
—The shilling would be carried to their credit?
—I pay it to them.

19451. You would have to pay it later on; but you are not a gainer?
—No, I am not a loser, if I am certain of it at the end of the season.

19452. You take the shilling into consideration when you settle with the fishermen?

19453. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—What have you for the £20?
—Not so much as I could stand upon outside my door. The house was formerly 4, and I was to have a lease; the rent was put down at £4 for the house and £16 for the shop. The cost of the shop was a little over £100.

19454. What do you pay for milk and supplies?
—I pay for grass, and keep one cow for the sake of my children only. Otherwise I would not keep a cow at all; I have no place for it.

19455. The Chairman.
—What do you pay for the grazing of the cow?
—Twenty shillings a year.

19456. What do you pay in winter?
—I have to purchase stuff.

19457. How much does it cost you?
—Perhaps about £2; I paid it last year.

19458. Does the cow run out in winter?
—I have the use of the hill during the whole year, but there is scarcely any grass in winter. The cow goes to get the air.

19459. The cow on the hill costs about £3 a year?
—It does.

19460. For which you get the milk?

19461. And that suits you better than to buy milk?
—I could not get it to buy.

19462. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Is milk so scarce?
—It is.

19463. Do the people need it all for their own families?
—-Yes, and more if they could get it. Sometimes they have no milk at all. There are some large families, and sometimes it is late before the cow calves.

19464. What do they give their children?
—They purchase syrup in spring; sometime in the spring of the year the cattle are not able to rise
owing to want of food.

19465. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Is it customary to go round the hill and lift them?
—No, they are in the byres.

19466. But they have to be lifted ?
—Yes, a thing which is unknown where I belong to, as the cattle are better fed. I belong to Deeside,

19467. Professor Mackinnon.
—How long had you a licence?
—Only one year.

19468. Was the licence suspended during the fishing season that year?
—No, but the fishing season then was not like what it is now. There was only one curer then, and latterly there have been two.

19469. By your arrangement with the fishermen, are you bound to supply them with money for drink?
—I am bound to a certain extent; if the men have been out at the ling fishing for two or three nights it is necessary that they should have something when they come in, and many a time at herring fishing the same thing occurs. But at the same time, I will not say that it is necessary just now, in the herring fishing season.

19470. Would it not be necessary to have a licence in that case?
—Not so much now as in the dead of winter.

19471. Are you bound to supply them with money to get drink?

19472. Why do you do it?-
—For the convenience of the men.

19473. Do you consider it wrong?
—Many a time I do, but still I cannot help it.

19474. But your complaint against the proprietor is that he preferred to have another tenant?
—Yes, that is the late proprietor. He told me my offer would be as good as that of any one else, but I found it was not.

19475. He gave the place to the other tenant at the same rent as you offered?
—Yes, but the farm was taken away.

19476. You offered £50 for the place you had, including the farm?
—I t was put up that way, and I offered £50, as it was advertised.

19477. And the proprietor got £50 for the place, less the farm?
—Yes, but it was less the farm that I offered.

19478. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Was the place advertised without their making you an offer?
—It was.

19479. Professor Mackinnon.
—And it was given to one who only made the same offer as you?

19480. The Chairman.
—And you were put to the expense and inconvenience of shifting the goods, and having no place to shift them to?

19481. Professor Mackinnon.
—What remedy would you provide for the like of that?
—To give a lease would be the best remedy, and then, when a man's lease expired, he would know it was his duty to renew it, or look out for some other place.

19482. Would you deprive the proprietor of the right to choose his tenant?
—No, but I think the sitting tenant, if his character is good, ought to have the preference.

19483. Would you make that a matter of law?
—I cannot say that; I think it ought to have been a matter of law in this case. Forty days' warning is not sufficient for a merchant in business.

19481. The Chairman.
—Would you make a proper length of warning a matter of law?
—Yes, I should say that in cases of yearly tenure one year's notice should be given.

19485. Mr Cameron.
—Would you apply that to all places in England and Scotland?
—No, but there I would have got a store for my goods.

19486. Would you make it the law elsewhere than in Mid Yell?
—I would make it a law in any country place, in the case of a tenant at will, especially in the case of a country merchant, when he is liable to be turned out at forty days' notice it is a very silly affair.

19487. Is he more silly in Mid Yell than he would be in London or Manchester?
—Yes, what would I do with my goods in Mid Yell?—I would have to charter a schooner to take my goods out of the country. There is no store to put one's goods into.

19488. Don't you think if business people had this enormous advantage under the law that there might be very considerable competition amongst them, and that they would come to Mid Yell?
—No, I don't think that. The best way to prevent that is to give leases.

19489. But there might be competition for the lease?
—Just so.

19490. Professor Mackinnon.
—Would you apply it to the merchant as well as the proprietor?
—I would have it fair on both sides.

19491. That the merchant should be bound to give notice too?
—Yes, I should say so. The present notice of forty days' is too short.

19492. And the merchant would be bound to give security for a year's advance of rent?
—That would be a simple matter.

19493. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You applied for a lease at £35, 0s. 5d.?

19494. And you consider that the landlord, having refused to give you the lease, had no right then to put you out in favour of a stranger, you being willing to give the same increase of rent?
—That is so; I might even have given £10 or £20 more rather than be removed I would suggest in addition to what I have stated, that a workhouse should be erected in Lerwick or elsewhere. There are more paupers in the parish than ought to be getting a supply, and that is at our expense entirely; whereas in the workhouse, women who can do any kind of work, might bring in something which could be applied to the support of the institution.

19495. Are there poor here on the rolls who ought to be supported by their relatives?
—There are some, I think, but there are a great many on the poor roll who would be able to do something if they were energetic enough.

19496. And who would not go into the poorhouse?
—I am certain they would not. One workhouse would be sufficient for the whole of the islands. Under the present system, there is also the expense of keeping inspectors, which would be avoided if a workhouse were erected. We don't have any satisfaction under the present system at all.

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