In Print

Rousay Crofters – Part 2


Part 2 of 4

George Leonard, Crofter, Triblo (67) – examined.

Question from Mr Cameron:- Are you a fisherman as well as a crofter ?

George Leonard answered:- Not now.

Were you a delegate freely elected by your neighbours ?


On what day did the meeting take place ?

The last meeting was on Saturday last.

Was that the meeting referred to by the Rev. Mr MacCallum ?


Was it a pretty fairly attended meeting ?


How long have you held land under General Burroughs ?

I had the first land when I was twenty-six years of age.

Was that the same land as you occupy now ?

No; I was one of those who were put out for sheep pasture.

How were you provided for otherwise ?

I was in a small bit of house, and then I got liberty to build a house in Sourin.

What happened to you when the land was taken from you to make a sheep farm ?

I had to leave the place.

Where did you go to ?

To where I am yet.

How far is that from the old place ?

Between three and four miles; round about it will be more.

What was the rent you paid for the former place ?

When I married, the rent was 10s., and I took off the roof and made some improvement on it, and there was 10s. raised on me.

What land did you occupy for the 10s. without counting the improvements ?

I cannot say; about an acre I think.

Which was already improved ?


And then you improved more ?

Yes, and there was 10s. raised on me.

The land that was already cultivated was rented at 10s., but you had the pasture ground ?


What amount of stock did you keep on the pasture ground ?

A cow and some sheep.

How many sheep ?

I could not say. They were running at large; they were merely small things.

But you had the whole of that for 10s. ?

That is what my wife paid when I came to the house.

And you went on paying the same rent ?

There was 10s. raised on me.

But for the land already cultivated, and for the outrun for cattle and sheep, you paid 10s.; what improvements did you make ?

I took off the roof and put on a new one, and I improved some of the land, and then there was 10s. raised on me.

How soon was the 10s. put on after you improved the land ?

Half a year after, I think.

How do you know that the 10s. was put on for improving the land, and was not a natural rise for the land you before occupied, which was low rented ?

It was an old woman and my wife who were in it, and it was low rented. But I improved again, and as soon as I improved the second time, there was 10s. put on again.

How much did you improve the second time ?

About two acres, I think, of hill pasture.

You made hill pasture into arable ground, and 10s. was put upon you ?


How long after this was it that you were removed ?

  was in it somewhere between ten and eleven years.

When you were removed, did you get any compensation ?


What year was that in ?

I could not be sure.

Somebody says 1857; is that so ?

I think so.

You were removed to the place you now occupy: what is the rent of it ?

It was £2 when I got it. There was about an acre of ground, and I built houses. There were no houses on it then, they were down, and I built houses and occupied the ground for some years, and then I improved it.

How much land did you take in ?

I could not say. I think I had about three acres then, and I had a fourteen years’ lease.

How many acres of cultivated land were there in this place when you first went there ?

I think about an acre.

And what was the rent – £2 ?


Had you a fourteen years’ lease then ?


And during that time did you improve the land ?


How much land did you improve ?

I couldn’t just say. I think about two or three acres.

Was the rent raised upon you ?


At the end of the fourteen years’ lease ?


You came to an agreement with the landlord ?


But for these fourteen years you had the croft for £2 ?


What stock did you keep in it ?

Generally two cattle.

Any sheep ?

Two or three sheep too.

You heard the previous witness mention that the rents were very high in this parish: do you consider £2 a high rent for a croft of that size ?

I did not consider it was high then.

What is it now ?

Six guineas.

Do you keep any more stock upon it ?

Not so many, because the pasture was taken from me to a great extent. There is a small portion of the ground yet in peat-moss and bracken, but nothing worth.

Describe exactly what took place after the rent was raised at the end of the fourteen years. When you entered into a new arrangement with the landlord did you get a fresh lease ?

Yes, for seven years.

What took place exactly, did you go to the landlord and ask a fresh lease, or did the factor come to you, or how ?

When the lease was out and I paid my rent, I asked for a lease again.

What answer did you get ?

I got the answer that I would get a lease for seven years.

What answer did you make to that ?

I had to take it.

Did you say anything at the time ?

I said I had to take it.

But did you make any objection or say that the rent was too high ?

No doubt I did that; I did so.

You said that the rent was too high ?


Did you take the place all the same ?

I had to take it because I had built a house and improved the ground, and what could I do. I had nowhere to go to.

You had no option but to take it ?


And you just took the lease ?

Just so.

At the end of the seven years what happened ?

Another pound was put on.

And did the same conversation take place between you and the factor ?

Just the same.

You said that it was too high, and the factor said he thought it was not ?


And you ended by taking it on another tack ?


Did you hear the Rev. Mr MacCallum mention that there were outrages committed in the district ?

Yes, I heard of that.

Would you describe the nature of those outrages – what were they ?

I cannot: it was in a different district from where I stay.

They did not commit the outrages in your district?

No, I just heard of them.

What did they do, did they hough the cattle [disable, by cutting the hamstrings] ?

No, but I think they broke some farm utensils : I don’t remember of them injuring any cattle.

Professor Mackinnon:- Is your own statement of complaint much the same as that of the people round about you ?

Much the same I think.

You had a place first for fourteen years and then the rent was increased: would you consider it fair that it should be increased a bit at the end of that lease ?

I would have allowed a little, but I think it was increased too much.

Your complaint is that it was increased too much ?

Yes, I would be willing to give what a conscientious man would say it was worth, but I would not like to give the rent I was giving before. When I was young and fit to work I could give it, but now I am getting old.

Do you think you would have made more of it – that you would have improved it more – if you had what you consider fairer terms ?

Yes; and I would have put up better houses too. The houses are generally very little worth now, since I built them thirty years ago, and I have no lease, but hold from year to year.

Do you think your neighbours also would have improved their places more if they had longer leases and lower rents ?

I am sure of it. If they had any security of the property there is no doubt of it; and they would have built better houses too. But if you built houses and improved the property, the rent was raised; and if you didn’t pay it you were put away.

When you got the seven years’ leases did you wish them for a longer term ?

I think we did, but I am not perfectly sure. I think we wanted them to be for fourteen years.

When the seven years came to an end, you only held from year to year ?

I think I got another seven years’ lease.

Did you wish a lease at the end of the second seven years ?


What was the reason you did not get a lease upon the last occasion ?

I cannot say. I was told that the whole place was offered to another big farm, to make sheep pasture. I was told by the man who holds the farm that he had an offer of the whole place, to add it on to his farm.

Did you consider the first lease of fourteen years at £2 fair terms ?

I did.

What increase do you think would be reasonable to make on the rent since that time ?

Well, Mr Balfour, factor in Shapinsay, was there, and I understand he was looking at the place. I spoke to him, as I thought he was a man of conscience – he is dead now – and he asked me what rent I paid. I told him four guineas, and he wanted to know how I could live on the place.

He thought four guineas too high ?

He just wanted me to describe how I could hold the place and make a living out of it.

And he was factor in Shapinsay at the time ?

Yes, and I think an excellent man.

He was a man of knowledge and experience of the place ?

He was that.

What would you consider a fair rent for your place upon along lease ?

£4 or four guineas; I would not wish to ask it for less. I would be willing to give what a man of conscience would say it was worth, as long as I could.

You would be willing to give what an outsider with knowledge and experience would say was a fair rent, if he knew the history of your improvements upon it, and your tenure in the past ?

I would.

But once having built your houses upon it, and having remained there for years, you would not like to leave it ?

Where would I go ?

And even supposing a higher rent was charged you would still have remained ?

I would remain as long as I could, because when I had nothing to give I would have to be supported some way.

But in fixing the rent you had no voice whatever ?


You would be able to make a living out of the croft if the rent was £4 ?

No, I could not do that.

Supposing you had it at £4 ?

Well, I only have my wife now – my children are all away – and I might make a bit of endeavour to live in that way too.

Your income would be at least £2, 6s. a year more than it is ?

Still, that would be a good deal.

Have you any other means of livelihood beside the croft – work or fishing of any kind ?

I used to go to the fishing, and I used to make shoes and carry on any kind of work; but now I am not fit for that, and it takes me my whole time to work on the croft. In that way I ask for nothing.

What kind of stock do you keep ?


Are they of the old Orkney breed ?

There are not many of them here now.

What is the breed ?

Just cross breed.

And what stock of sheep have you ?

I have three.

What kind ?

Just crosses.

And it is the outcome of that stock that you pay the rent with ?

It must be relied on that, indeed. I have four head of cattle at the present time. But I must only keep two for this season, because we have no crop which is worth.

Is the crop very bad this year ?

Cruelly bad; I think we have just about half what we had last year.

Are you able to summer more stock than your crop can winter for you ?

Yes, owing to this piece of outbreak of hill above us. We drive them to it, but it just keeps them alive, and no more; it is only heather and peat moss. But we buy for them in winter.

Could you pay rent in the old place you were in forty years ago ?


And now you are afraid after being forty years in the place, and having built a house and improved the land, that you should be removed again ?

Yes. I cannot make any improvement on the place, because I have no security.

The Chairman:- Have you any horses ?


How many acres of arable land have you ?

It was measured to me for ten and a half acres, the whole in a square.

How much of that is in pasture, and how much do you break up in rotation ?

There may be about six or seven acres under the plough.

Do you raise potatoes and oats ?

We try it as far as possible.

Do you use the grain that you grow for your own family, for their subsistence ?

I do, when I can get any of it.

Where do you get it ground ?

In the mill a short distance from us; but I have not ground any for some years.

Do you give the oats to the cattle ?

No, but I am giving a little to the hens, or anything of that sort.

What is the reason that the number of fishing boats has diminished ?

Well, I think it is that a great many of the young men have left the island, because they have no way of stepping into; the old people cannot go.

What sort of fishing did they go to – herring or cod?

Both herring and cod. I remember a great many fishing boats, and I had one of them too.

Did the fishing make it easier for the people to pay their rent ?

A great deal: they could have done little with the rents if they had not gone to the fishing.

Do you sell the stirk or the two-year-old ?

I would not have had so many this year, only I had an old cow, and I had to keep a young one to fill its place.

But you generally sell them at two years of age ?

Yes; I have but a year-old just now.

How much do you get for the two-year-old when you sell it ?

The last I sold for £4; but it was a year-old.

But when you sell it at two years old what do you get ?

I never sold one at two years old.

Do you have a two-year-old now ?


What do you intend to do with it ?

I intend to work it.

And plough with it ?


Do you borrow another man’s ox to plough alongside of it ?

I take another man’s and I plough to him again.

Do you like ploughing better with an ox than with a horse ?

I could not keep a horse a week.

Do you think oxen are better than horses ?

They are better in some cases, but I must do with it as I can.

Do most of the small tenants about you keep oxen for ploughing ?

Some do, and some who have pasture get horses as they are required.

They have always been in the habit of using oxen ?


Can you plough with the old small cattle of the country ?

Yes, with the hardiest ones.

Which do you use now ?

The cross breed; of course we must use what we have.

Do they plough better ?

They may be powerfuller, bigger and stouter, sometimes.

Sir Kenneth Mackenzie:- What would the old cows fetch if you were to sell them ?

It depends on its condition. The flesh on it is not great, and we have no grass to give it.

What do you expect for them ?

Maybe about £15 or £16. I have sold one at that, and I have sold one at £10.

How long do you keep them before you sell them ?

It is just as we can get another one raised. I have had the one I have just now about nine years.

When do the cows begin to fall in value ?

At six or seven years old.

The Chairman:- And the one you have is nine or ten years old ?


But will he still fatten for the market ?

Fine that; but it takes more to feed him.

Do you put the ox in the cart ?


How do you harness it – like a horse ?

Just the same.

Was that the way the old people did, or had they another way ?

They had another way. They had a yoke on the ox’s neck – a piece of iron round its neck, and fastened to the shafts of the cart.

Wasn’t that the better way ?

I cannot say; but I have seen it that way and worked it too.

Sheriff Nicolson:- Have you plenty of peats on the island of Rousay ?


Convenient to you ?

Some are convenient, and some are a long way from them.

Do you generally carry them on your backs ?

No, we cart them.

Is that the custom among the people ?

It is the custom now; carrying on the back used to be the practice.

But none of them do it now ?

Some poor people who have not carts and cannot get them home in spring have to carry them in winter.

How are you off for sea-ware ?

I get none, because I have no road to the sea-ware.

What manure do you use ?

I have none but what I buy, and a little dung from the cattle. I drive a little moss from the hill.

How far are you from the sea ?

Not very far.

Why cannot you get seaware ?

Because there is not much to get, and the roads are so wet in winter that I cannot travel to the mill without going on my neighbour’s land.

Are your people generally well supplied with sea-ware ?

Not in my district. In the district I was in before they were, but not in this district.

Is there any kelp made in the island ?

None now.

Was there ever ?

Yes; I was at that trade too, once on a time.

How long ago ?

I think about forty years ago.

Mr Fraser-Mackintosh:- You have heard the paper Mr MacCallum read: do you concur in it as correct ?

As far as I understand, I do.

Do you believe that it represents the real feelings and sentiments of the tenants on the Burroughs’s estate – the small people ?

I do.

Sheriff Nicolson:- You spoke about being afraid of being evicted, as you have no lease now ?


You are not secure in your holding ?


Are many of your neighbours in the same position ?

Just the same; I think there are about a dozen or more in the same position.

Your land you say was offered to a farmer ?

 The man told me so.

And some of your neighbours’ land also ?

The whole square about us.

Including how many families ?

About a dozen, I think.

But he did not take it ?


If he had done so, then they would all have had to go ?

I think so.

[That concludes the evidence of George Leonard]

Mrs Georgina Inkster, wife of Hugh Inkster, Hammer, Rousay (35) – examined.

The Chairman:- Your husband was formerly tenant or crofter at Hammer ?


You wish to state a personal grievance before the Commission ?

Yes: they have entirely taken our farm away.

Do you come here of your own accord, spontaneously, or have you been asked or prompted to come here by anybody ?

I come of my own accord.

Would you now state what your grievance is ?

My grievance is that our property is entirely taken away and we are just destitute. I asked parochial relief and there was none granted.

Where is your husband at this moment ?

I cannot say. He was not home when I left the house.

He has been in the Infirmary in Edinburgh ?


Has he come home ?


But he is not here just now, in Kirkwall ?


Your husband was formerly a crofter or tenant on General Burroughs’ estate ?


How long was he a crofter ?

Three years.

What was he before that ?

He kept the house for his mother; she was a widow and he kept the farm for her.

She had the croft ?


Three years ago he became the tenant, did he not ?

Five years ago; it is close on two years now since it was taken away.

Were you married then ?


And you were living with your husband in the same house with his mother during her time ?

In the same house.

When your husband got the croft five years ago was there a new settlement of the rent ?

Yes; the rent was £15 for fifteen acres.

It was settled at £15 when he became tenant ?


How much had it been before, in his mother’s time ?

It was not the same croft at all.

He got a new croft of fifteen acres at £15 five years ago ?


Did he get any lease of it ?


When he entered the new croft was there a house upon it ?

The same house that is on it yet, but it is very bad.

During the three years that he was on the croft did he spend any money on improving the house ?

None of any consequence, but he did improve a little on the roof.

Did he make any dykes or enclosures ?


Did he improve the land ?

The land was improved before

Did he take in any new land ?

None. He just had exactly fifteen acres and there was no more to take in.

He took fifteen acres of land for £15 and remained three years: did he pay his rent punctually ?

He did that.

And at the end of three years he was not in arrear ?

Only a little for the last year, and he was at the factor and offered to pay that too, but could not get a settlement.

When he took the fifteen acres was there any verbal understanding that he was to go on holding it ?

I think so.

Do you know it ?

I think so. If we could have kept it, we would have been glad to keep it.

Did your husband ever tell you that the factor had promised him to remain in that holding ?

We just had it from year to year.

You had no promise ?


He held it for three years and then what happened ?

It was in consequence, I suppose, of his health giving way: he has been a man in delicate health for fourteen years.

At the end of the three years did the factor come and tell him he was not to remain there any longer ?


When did your husband learn that, when he went to pay his rent ?

I cannot remember.

Did the factor give him any reason for that ?

None. The land was put on to the next farm.

Did your husband sell his stock ?


Did the proprietor pay him any compensation or let him off any of his rent ?


Did the proprietor buy his stock or take it off his hand ?

No. The most of the stock was his mother’s, but she gave it to my husband and we were to pay her as we could get it.

His mother was still alive ?

Yes, she is alive yet

Did the factor tell your husband why he took the land away ?


Then your husband just lost it ?


Did he ever pay the factor any more money in order to be allowed to stay ?

I don’t think it. It was no use, he would not get it.

What became of your husband; was he in good health at the time he left the farm ?

No, not very. It is fourteen years since he was in good health – there has not been a year in that time he has been in good health. During the last two years he has been entirely unable to earn a sixpence.

Who does he live with ?

We are just destitute.

You still remain in the same house ?

Yes, and the land is taken away. We have nothing.

Has he got any means of subsistence at all ?

The means were his mother’s; if it had not been her we would not have been alive.

Does he help his mother in the management of her croft ?

She has no croft. When my husband entered his croft his mother came along with us. The croft at Hammer was stocked by her and she gave up her own croft.

And are you living with the mother now ?

Yes, my husband’s mother and sister are living in a room in the end of our house.

Are they able to earn anything ?

Not the mother, but the sister is.

Are you able to earn anything ?

I have a small family and cannot get out to work if I were able; my youngest child is an infant.

What is your particular complaint at this moment? Is it that you are not allowed to remain in the holding which your husband got ?

Yes, and we are entirely destitute and have been applying for relief and none has been granted.

Your complaint just now is that you have applied for parochial relief and none has been granted to you ?


Have you appeared before the Parochial Board yourself ?


How long ago ?

I was at the inspector of poor but not before the board.

What reason did the inspector give you for not granting relief ?

The General was not at home, and he said he would write the General and give me an answer. The answer did not come and my husband sent a note to the inspector, and the inspector said he called a meeting of the Parochial Board and the case was laid down and that unless he got a certificate from the medical officer of the parish that my husband was quite unable to work there would be no relief granted. He also said that if relief was granted my husband would find it in the poor-house in Kirkwall.

Did your husband get the certificate ?

He has not got it yet.

How was your husband able to pay for going to the Infirmary in Edinburgh ?

His mother helped him.

Did anyone else help him ?


Have you applied to the proprietor for assistance in any way ?

I went to the inspector of poor.

But have you applied to the proprietor for any other land or any support or assistance at all ?

They always promised to give us the first place that was open, but now it is of no use as we have nothing to take any place with.

How long was your husband in the Infirmary ?

I cannot exactly say; it is six weeks since he went to Edinburgh and he came back last Saturday night.

Have they done him a great deal of good ?

Yes. But I have not seen him yet: he was not arrived when I left home.

Mr Cameron:- What age is your husband ?


Mr Fraser-Mackintosh:- Was he born on General Burroughs’ estate ?


Were his people there before ?

Yes, his grandfather and father.

Do you belong to the estate yourself ?


Sheriff Nicolson:- Was there any suggestion that your husband was not able to work the croft, or that he was not cultivating it properly ?

No, he was cultivating it well.

Was there any complaint against him of any kind ?

Not that I heard,

If you were getting land now, how could you work it ?

We have nothing to take land with now.

You have no stock to put upon it now ?


Professor Mackinnon:- Why did your husband not get a medical certificate ?

Dr Gibson the medical officer, told him that he could have given him a line that he was unable to work at the present time, but that if he was to go into the poor-house and be examined, the statement by the doctor in the poor-house might not agree with his, and that would hurt him (Dr Gibson) in his situation. Dr Gibson promised before to give my husband a line, and I thought I had nothing to do but go and get it; but when I mentioned about the poor-house, that was his statement, and Dr Stewart of Kirkwall offered my husband a line.

The offer of relief which you got, was to go to the poor-house ?


Would they take your husband away without you and the children ?

I don’t know.

You don’t know whether you and the children would have got out-door relief ?

I don’t know; it was my husband who was mentioned in the line.

The Chairman:- Would you go to the poor-house ?

I am sure I could not say. I would have to go I suppose. I could not live upon nothing.

Professor Mackinnon:- Is it your mother-in-law’s stock that you have been living upon for the last two years ?


And you say it is now exhausted, and you are destitute ?


So that if you got another croft, you could not take it ?

We could not do anything with it now, unless we got help from some person.

Mr Fraser-Mackintosh:- Suppose you had been left on the croft, would you have struggled on ?

Yes, cheerfully.

The last thing you would have thought of, would have been to apply to the Parochial Board ?

Yes, the last thing.

Have you anything else you want to state ?

I don’t think it.

[That concludes the evidence of Mrs Georgina Inkster]