KENNETH DAVIDSON, Crofter, Upper Knockbain, Kilcoy Estate (42)—examined.
40821. The Chairman
—Read your statement?
—Statement by the Knockbain Crofters to Her Majesty's Royal Commission.
—About two hundred years ago our forefathers settled on the barren, heathery moor of Knockbain. The whole arable land in Knockbain, at that time, consisted of less than a dozen acres. The rental then was 7s. There are in Knockbain, now, over two hundred and fifty acres of arable land, and the rental is above £280. Although all this land has been reclaimed by us and our forefathers, we, nor they, have never received any compensation. The land which we presently occupy is so unfruitful, and is in such a wet; condition through want of drains, that it does not produce half a crop. We were bound by the proprietor to drain the land, but this we are unable to do on account of the high rents which we pay. Some of us, in fact, would not be able to pay the rent, but for assistance received from our friends and relations. We are obliged to leave our crofts at certain seasons of the year, to work on the large farms, for the purpose of enabling us to pay the rent, and thus satisfy the rent-demanding propensities of the landlord. In one case the land is so poor that the crofter sows five bushels of corn per acre, while the return seldom exceeds four bushels. Another crofter, who pays £34 of rent, is compelled to purchase meal for himself and family. Most of us are compelled to purchase seed-corn annually. The ground, in fact, is so poor and wet that it will not repay the labour. Land, arable and pasture, has been taken from us and despoiled by the proprietor, for the loss of which we have neither received any reduction of rent nor compensation. Three acres of arable land were taken from one widow, and only £ 1 of the rent reduced, while she is paying about £ 1 per acre. As many as fifteen acres of pasture were taken from one crofter, but the rent was not reduced. Some of the land which has been taken from us was reclaimed at considerable expense. We were compelled to reclaim half of an acre of land annually, without any compensation. About one hundred acres of arable land on the estate were planted. Houses and steadings have been erected by most of us at our own expense, with the exception of timber. In one case, even the timber was refused until the crofter had reclaimed an acre of land. The steadings on one croft are in such a dilapidated condition that the tenant is compelled to turn out his cattle when there is a storm. We receive no compensation for the expenditure of our labour and capital in the erection of said buildings. We have no fixity of tenure, and are liable to be turned out whenever the landlord feels disposed to do so. Whenever we improve the land the rent is raised. On one croft the original rent was 7s.; the present tenant is paying £ 8 . Another crofter, who reclaimed seventeen acres of land, had the rent raised proportionately. The former tenant in one case paid £ 3 , and had besides his croft a spirit license. The present tenant, a widow, pays for croft alone £ 6 , or £ 2 per acre. Our crops are considerably damaged by game, but we are never paid for the loss we thereby sustain. The benefits of the Game Act have not been conferred upon us. We are bound to give six days' free labour of a man and horse to the proprietor. All the large farmers are, however, exempted from such an unjust imposition. The proprietor promised to repair roads, but this has never been performed. We were also promised to get tiles, but this was only partially fulfilled. About thirty-five years ago there were 44 crofters in Knockbain ; the number now is 19. The population of the parish in 1831 was 3005; the population last census was only 1863. This reduction in the number has been caused by eviction. The farm which is now tenanted by the factor of the estate was at one time occupied by 21 crofters. They were, all of course, turned out to make room for a big farmer. This has been the principal cause of evictions throughout the country. Shameful and numerous cases of eviction occurred on different parts of the estate. Whenever the crofters have succeeded in reclaiming the land, they are evicted to make room for big farmers. We are, in short, made to reclaim the land for the proprietor free of charge. At one time our forefathers possessed the undisputed right to graze cattle on the Mulbuie common, which the landlords and clergymen have recently arrogated and divided among themselves. They have thus become the unjust owners of land which was once a common for the benefit of the crofters and other poor people in the Black Isle. We demand an equivalent to what has thus been stolen from us.' There is another statement here by another delegate.
40822. Is the other statement much to the same effect—the same kind of complaints?
40823. Can you tell us verbally, without reading it through, what else there is ?
—There is the case of a crofter on the Rosehaugh estate, who has improved a great deal of land in his day, and has been turned out to make room for a large farmer, without any compensation for the improvements which he made.
40824. What was the name of the crofter?
—Donald Jack, Afterflow.
Statement by Angus Jack, Folds of After flow.
—My great-grandfather became tenant of Wester Afterflow when it consisted of a few acres of arable land. Bit by bit he " took in " and improved some of the waste land, until the size of his holding was considerably increased. On his death my grandfather and father continued the work of reclamation, for which they never received any compensation. When my grandfather died my father became tenant of the place, when it consisted of about thirty acres. In the expectation that he would never be removed out of the place, he commenced the laborious undertaking of reclaiming all the waste land, which was covered with whins, broom, and stones. After a number of years he had the satisfaction of seeing the work completed. Altogether he reclaimed about forty acres, for which he never received any compensation. The rent was raised, however, proportionate to the increased value of the land. He, my father, was paying £72 of rent, when he along with his three neighbours were evicted at the expiry of the lease to make room for a big farmer. To narrate all the evictions which occurred on the Rosehaugh estate would fill a volume. So far as I can ascertain, my father is the only crofter on the estate just now. In his young days nine small farmers and three crofters lived, happy and contented, on Wester and Easter Afterflow, which are now tenanted by two individuals. All the crofters on the estate were evicted and large farms made of their holdings. The croft which my father occupies at the present time was rented to a former tenant at £4, 10s. My father is paying £20. The place is not worth more than one-third of this sum. The houses are in a very dilapidated condition. All the farmers on the estate received new houses and steadings. Our holding is not seen from any of the public roads. This is probably the reason why new houses have not been erected.
40825. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—What estate have you been speaking about ?
—The estate I live upon is the estate of Kilcoy.
40826. What is the name of the proprietor?
—Charles Mackenzie of Kilcoy.
40827. He is under judicial charge?
40828. Who has charge of the estate?
—-Mr Auldjo Jamieson, Edinburgh.
40829. How long has he had charge of the estate ?
—I would say about twenty years or so, but I am not exactly sure of the date.
40830. Have a good number of the evictions you speak of and the adding to large farms taken place within twenty years?
—Most of them, I believe.
40831. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Do you remember these evictions yourself?
—Yes, a great number.
40832. Wore they in your neighbourhood?
—Yes, a great many of them.
40833. What was the reason given for turning the people away?
—To make room for the large farmer, I believe, was the principal reason.
40834. Was it not said they were not paying their rents ?
—No, I never heard that complaint made.
40835. Or that they were not cultivating the ground properly ?
—I never heard any complaint as to that.
40836. They were removed to make room for a large farm ?
—Yes, and add croft to croft.
40837. Was there more than one large farm to which these crofts were added ?
40838. And the addition was made to increase the crofts of people who had crofts before ?
—Yes, in a good many cases they were enlarged.
40839. But I suppose a good many crofters would be glad to have their crofts enlarged, if it were not done at the expense of their neighbours ?
—Well, no doubt they would like to have larger holdings.
40840. The Chairman.
—Had these people leases, and were they turned out at the expiry of the lease, or were they tenants at will ?
—Most of them had leases, but I understand that at the expiry of the lease the greatest number of evictions took place.
40841. What became of the people ?
—There were a good number of them who had to go on the Parochial Board, and the young people of the families had to emigrate, and to go out through the country wherever they could find employment, and now there is hardly a person to be found in the district who will do a day's labour, for the scarcity of the people. The large farmers complain they cannot get people to do the work of their farms.