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Outer Isles
Chapter VI. Barra


IT would be tolerably safe to assert that of those who approach Barra, certainly if coming from the south, nine-tenths look with satisfaction, if not affection, upon the still waters of Castle Bay, for they have almost certainly spent several hours in a fashion which makes them more than thankful for a peaceful harbour and a tranquil sea. Even if they are going further the worst is over, and the worst—from, say an hour beyond Tobermory—is an experience compared with which that of the Bay of Biscay is a mere trifle. Macbrayne facetiously describes the journey, which may be taken three times a week, as of seven and a half hours’ duration, 6 a.m. from Oban to 1.30 Castle Bay; but there are circumstances, such as the condition of one’s fellow-passengers, the accommodation, the amount of space at command, which, even when one is the best of sailors, compel attention to the duration of time, and that is seldom limited to seven and a half or even nine hours.

The tonnage of the Flowerdale is 537, and we, personally, have spent some very happy hours on the brave little boat. We generally had the deck to ourselves, we asked no questions, we came provided with food, and we had every confidence in the kindly captain. May he live to rule a better boat!

There is a companion-boat, the Staffa, her tonnage is 196, her captain and mate are alleged to be very skilful seamen, and the boat, built for the Tagus, but rejected for river traffic, is said to be very strong. I can well believe it, for, I repeat, her tonnage is 196 and she crosses the roughest minch on the coast of Scotland.

Perhaps this is all so much the better for Barra. As the purser of the Dunara Castle said to us under some such circumstances, “If it were not for these little disadvantages”—the discomfort of one’s fellow-creatures—“we should not be the select party we are,” and Barra has quite enough to endure without the invasion of the tourist.

Though one is sometimes inclined to feel deficient in gratitude to Macbrayne, his red ochre funnels represent probably one of the most valuable innovations in the modem life of the Outer Hebrides. The postage between the Islands and the mainland seems to us tedious enough, but in the old days, before the mail-boats were established, the connexion was incredibly difficult. The Agricultural Survey of 1811 calculates, (p. 519) that for Clanranald to communicate between his two estates in South Uist and in Arisaig (on the opposite coast of the mainland), and to get a reply, would occupy between two and three months, after a journey (via Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness) of 1,444 miles, of which 200 would be over troublesome and dangerous fords and ferries.

If only Macbrayne would put large boats on to such crossings as from Mull to Barra, Skye to Lewis, Tobermory to Tyree, instead of keeping them all for inland lochs, and, even more, if he would give us deck-chairs in place of impossibly high and uncomfortable camp-stools, and a few “garden-seats” with sloping backs instead of the rigid benches at present in favour, one could forgive him other and perhaps more serious offences against one’s comfort; but to have one’s feet hanging in mid-air, and one’s back unsupported, or forced forward, as the case may be, are serious aggravations of the wet and the cold, the driving wind, the pitching deck; with the sight of the misery of one’s fellow-travellers, in an unventilated, evil-smelling saloon, for sole alternative.

None of the Islands has an approach half so picturesque as that of Castle Bay, nor such an air, fictitious though it be, of prosperity and well-being. The prosperity, far more real, of North Uist, has an air of being ashamed of itself, that of Lewis of being merely temporary, and for commercial purposes. But poor little Barra puts her best foot foremost, and brings down all she possesses to the sea-shore, to welcome the stranger.

The bay is almost circular, the opening somewhat narrow, and the first thing that strikes one’s eye is the quaint little Castle of Kisimul, the old stronghold of the Macneills, sitting firmly on a tight little island which just holds it, with not an inch to spare. The Castle is said to be six hundred years old, the fort is hexagonal in form, the walls nearly thirty feet high. There is a high square tower in one angle, which tradition says was always occupied by a watchman who let fall a heavy stone on to the head of any one attempting to surprise the gate. There is a local story that he used to repeat rhymes to keep himself awake. Except by water, it is of course entirely inaccessible, and a more interesting example of its kind could hardly be found.

The Macneills of Barra, as every one knows, “had a boat of their ain at the Flood.” It is said that there were thirty-three Roderick Macneills in succession before we come to the first one known to have possessed a charter, one Gilieonan, son of Roderick, grandson of Murdoch, who flourished somewhere about 1427.

They were the possessors, according to an ancient description, not only of Barra and various smaller islands, but also of “all and sundry other castles, fortalices, manor places, fishings, tofts, crofts, muirs, marshes, islands, lochs, pasturages, pendicles, annexes, connexes, and pertinents, whatsomever, pertaining to the said Isle of Barray, remanent isles above specified, or possessed by the said Macneill, all lying within the Sheriffdom of Inverness, and now united, annexed, and incorporated in ane heil and free barony, called the baron of Barray.”

One cannot wonder, after all this, that it was necessary, for the encouragement of his lieges, that a herald should daily proclaim from the roof of Kisimul Castle that the great Chief having dined, the people of the island were now at liberty to refresh themselves. One cause of their extreme dignity lay in the fact that they held their lands direct from the Crown without any overlord. But unhappily, in the reign of James VI., they fell upon evil days. It happened that the Chief of the period, a Rory of course, known, moreover, as “Rory the turbulent” (Ruary ’n’ tarter) seized an English ship which was passing along the coast. Queen Elizabeth complained to the King, and Rory was summoned to Edinburgh to answer for his conduct, an order with which he characteristically refused to comply. Mackenzie, known as “the Tutor” of Kintail, thought it a good opportunity for ingratiating himself at Court, and effected by treachery what bettor authorized methods had failed to achieve.

He went off in whatever kind of boat answered to the yacht of the period, called at Kisimul, and invited Macneill and his retainers to dine on board. Having made them all drunk, he put the inferior persons on shore, and carried off the Chief to Edinburgh. The prisoner was tried, and pleaded guilty to an offence which he alleged was fully justified, as an attempt at retaliation for Elizabeth’s conduct to his King, and still more to the unhappy Mary, his King’s mother. The excuse was accepted, and his life spared, but the lords of Barra were thenceforth placed under the superiority of Kintail, i.e. in the humiliating position of holding their lands from a fellow-chief instead of from the Crown.

Among various stories of Macneill’s humiliation under this hated yoke, is, that on one occasion Lord Macdonald was seen approaching the island at a period of great destitution. Macneill was unable either to leave the island or to give him proper entertainment, and his Highland pride could not stand having to make confession of not being in a position to show hospitality. He accordingly got into a creel and ordered a fisherman to carry him away from Kisimul on his back. As ill luck would have it, they met Macdonald, who entered into conversation with the fisherman, whose creel being portentously heavy, broke from the rope, and Macneill fell to the ground. Upon this, Lord Macdonald who seems, like others of his period, to have been ready, like Silas Wegg, to “drop into poetry,” thus expressed himself in Gaelic verse :

It is opportune for me to the going
From Scanty Barra which is not abundant;
From the shells I'll gather
That the clan Macneill are in need.
They call Macneill a “lord,”
And the smallest of birds a “bird,”
They call the grouse’s nest “a nest,”
And a “ nest ” too is that of the smallest birdling;
But small, small is my blessing on the withe
That allowed his mouth to lie under the creel.

The superiority of the laird of Kintail subsequently passed by marriage to the Macdonalds of Sleat, the representatives of the Lords of the Isles, who had died out in the reign of James V. The Kings of Scotland always favoured division of power, and there were many shoots from the main trunk, including seven Macdonalds, as well as seven of other patronymics. The superiority of Barra, the value of which is variously reported as from a shilling to some forty pounds Scots, still forms part, it is alleged, of the Macdonald estates, and one rejoices that, however remotely, the island should still be connected with one of the old families.

It is sad, however, that another and less creditable consequence was that, in the *45, the Chief was prevented by his Superior from joining the Stuart cause. He made no secret of his sympathies, and was for a time confined in London. Looked at from another point of view, Sir Alexander Macdonald's conduct was somewhat to his credit, as in the event of Macneill’s forfeiture of his estate he, as Superior, would have reaped advantage of the kind by which the Campbells have so often profited.

Like the Clanranalds in Uist, the Macneills were ruined by the failure of the kelp industry, and the island passed into the hands of Colonel Gordon somewhere about 1838.

General Macneill, a brave soldier, survived till 1803, gratefully remembered by his bereaved islanders. Mr. Fraser Macintosh, M.P., tells a pathetic story of one of his own Highland constituents who visited him in London, “chiefly that he might with his own eyes see the house where General Macneill had lived and died.” The family of Barra is still represented by a Rory, an exile, alas! living in Prince Edward Island, a great-grandson of another Rory, Roderick of Brevaig, who emigrated from Barra in 1802.

There seems little doubt that the Macneills made a gallant fight for their island home; it was no case of dying out by slow decay, as among the Clanranalds of Uist. Even as late as 1794, we read, in the Old Statistical Account, of great improvement in agriculture within the last five years, “when Mr. Macneill, returned from visiting foreign countries, has begun to introduce the method used in the low country as far as he thinks the soil and climate can admit.”

The crofts seem to have been small, not more than from £3 to £4, but with the help of the common-land most were able to keep three horses, four cows, and eight or ten sheep.

“The tenants,” we learn, “pay their rents by kelp-making, the proprietor paying them, if on their own farm, £2 12s. 6d. a ton, if on his, from £1 10s. to £2 2s. . . . The people live very easy, excepting in bad years, when there is a scarcity of bread.” Under these circumstances, we read, “the proprietor supplies the country with low country meal at the market price.”

Things are now very different. Though, in this present year, 1901, the proprietor has been compelled to hand over 3,000 acres (till now part of a single farm which covers one-third of the island) for the use of the crofters and fishermen, very much remains to be done.

At the head of the bay is a very good pier, perhaps the best in the Islands, while all around, a number of miniature piers, each accompanied by a little iron or wooden hut, jut out a score or so of feet from the land, revealing, to the initiated, the fact that Barra is one of the largest fish-curing stations on the west coast of Scotland. Surrounding the bay are some half-dozen good and well-placed buildings—the Roman Catholic Church, the best in the islands, the Presbyterian Church, a few neat slate-roofed houses belonging to successful tradesmen, and the little hotel, erected, I believe, for the accommodation of the fish-curers, who come in great numbers in June and July, but which is also used by occasional visitors, sometimes artists. Behind, rises a hill 1,260 feet high, which seems to occupy the middle of the island, like, to use a homely simile, a pudding in a dish, the dish being represented by a tract of almost level land varying in width and stretching away from the mountain to the sea. The hill rises abruptly behind the village of Castle Bay, grey and bare like all the higher ground in the Hebrides, and so intersected with rocks, that the people tell you that you may climb up without stepping on the rock, and down again without stepping on the grass.

The island lies north-east and south-west, and measures about eight miles by four, or for part of its length, two. A good road surrounds the mountain, bearing‘witness to the fact of long-established traffic between the two extremities of the island. This probably is partly because, when the old Castle of Kisimul became uninhabitable, the Macneills removed, what one may call the seat of government, to Eoligarry, where they built a substantial house, though from the presence of remains of a much older civilization, as well as because the soil at that end of the island is more productive than elsewhere, one may conclude that the north and south shores of Barra have always been in active relation with each other, the one as the agricultural, the other as the fishing settlement. Moreover, in the prosperous days of kelp-making, there was a factory towards the north end, which may partly account for the quality of the road.

On leaving Castle Bay all signs of prosperity are at an end, and not even in South Uist are the houses more wretched or the scraps of cultivated ground more pitiable. In one little gully on the east side an attempt has been made at tree-planting, mainly of elders, birches, and pines, with such fair success that one wonders it has not been carried further. The coarser trees have provided shelter for those of more value, and though none have gained any height beyond the dignity of bushes, owing to the severity of the winds, they are at least a suggestion of what might be done if some sort of artificial screen could be provided until they had attained a stronger maturity.

Turning westward from Castle Bay one comes suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon a little castle, a very toy in fortifications, standing upon a little island in a little lake which may be the scene intended in the story of Saint Clair of the Isles, a once popular novel, in the style of Miss Porter. A little further is a remarkable specimen of one of the mysterious Standing-stones of which there are so many in the islands, and of which it is so difficult to guess the original purpose, whether memorials, landmarks, or the site of worship, and, if so, to what kind of worship they have belonged.

One natural feature of the Island of Barra, which is of special interest, is Cockle Bay, a shimmering expanse, almost snow-white and consisting entirely of cockle shells, empty or full, and of the dust and fragments of a great cockle population, probably of thousands of years’ duration. I do not know whether such a vast nursery of shell-fish is to be found elsewhere. It seems to have considerably astonished Mr. Donald Munro, High Dean of the Isles, who, as the title-page of his “Description” tells us, “travelled through the most of them in the year 1594.” His ingenious theory deserves quotation:

“In the north end of this ile of Barray there is ane round heigh know, mayne grasse and greine round about it to the heid, on the top of quhilk ther is ane spring and fresh water well. This well treuly springs up certaine little round quhyte things, less nor the quantity of ane confeit corne, lykest to the shape and figure of ane little cokill, as it appearit to me. Out of this well runs ther ane little strype downwith to the sea, and quher it enters into the sea ther is ane myle braid of sands quhilk ebbs ane myle callit the Trayr-more of Killbaray that is the grate sandes of Barray. This sand is all full of grate cokills and alledgit be the ancient countrymen, that the cokills comes down out of the forsaid hill throughe the said strype in the first small forme that we have spoken off, and after their coming to the sandes growes grate cokills alwayes. There is na fairer and more profitable sands for cokills in all the world.”

This explanation appears to have been seriously received, for in the Old Statistical Account (1755) we find a solemn contradiction based upon the two arguments: (1) that though there are such a hill and such a spring, the water never reaches the sea, but is absorbed by the sandy soil on the way; and (2) that “it is allowed by all naturalists that every animal procreates its own species.”

The cockles, be their origin what it may, have been a valuable asset of the island, and it is said have sustained hundreds of families in hard times.

Not far from Cockle Bay is the burial-ground of Kilbar (the Church of St. Barr) where are the remains of three chapels, one even smaller than the little one in Tyree. Many, if not most of these chapels, have the east wall blank, but one of these has the peculiarity of an east window, which, however, measuring only 16 inches by inches, can be reckoned but a very trifling exception!

The island formerly possessed a wooden image of St. Barr, which was annually produced on his festival, September 25, and clothed with a linen shirt, probably the remains of some forgotten ceremonial. Probably Barra was of some importance in Columban days, and it is said that some of the small islands belonging to it formed part of the endowment of the diocese of the Sudreys.

St. Michael’s Day, in old times the great festival of the Outer Hebrides, coming but four days later, the Holy-day was often kept up for the greater part of the week, and there were horse-races on the sands and various forms of merry-making.

Perhaps an even greater festival is that of St. Bridget, to whom, I believe, the Roman Catholic Church in Barra, is dedicated. The Church stands on the east side of the harbour, and is a handsome little building, well fitted and well kept, and the parish priest is Dean of the Isles, so that it is quite an important religious centre. There is a second Chapel and a priest at the west side of the island. It is on St. Bride’s Day that people meet outside the Church, and, by a very old custom, ballot for the position of the boats for the coming fishing season, after which again the skipper of each boat draws lots for his crew, he himself having made his arrangements with some fish-curer who lets him have a boat and a bounty for the men, while he, in return, undertakes to let the curer have all the herring taken by the boat’s crew during the season. As the price is fixed beforehand this monopoly often falls hard on the men. They are driven to it almost of necessity, for, at the end of the winter, the bounty, often paid on the truck system, i.e. in goods, is very valuable to the poor who have come to the end of their autumn earnings, ^and now that the kelp-trade is declining have been almost unemployed all the winter; moreover, as the herring-fishery is carried on along the dangerous north and north-west shores of the Long Island, a special boat, heavier and more costly than anything they possess, is required.

The details of the fishing arrangements seem to be in something of a transition stage, so in attempting to describe them, I speak subject to correction, conscious that even as I write, the old customs may already be passing away. I believe, however, that still, after all the business is completed, the fishermen pass into the little grey Church under the shadow of which their plans have been discussed, and then a Service is held, praying for a blessing upon their undertaking, and concluding with the Gaelic hymn which they and their forefathers have always associated with this occasion, with its burden of—

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
The Three in One be with us always;
On the sea when the flood is about us,
O Mother! Mary be with us!

We were in the island one year about tho middle or end of August, and I remember one bright Sunday morning when, looking from the door of our little inn, we saw an unusual number of persons coming from all directions and gathering about the walls of the Church which stands, unenclosed, on the rocky hillside. We passed out into the sunshine, and followed at a respectful distance. As always in these islands, and, so far as I know, nowhere else in a Christian country, the men among the Church-goers were in excess of the women. They were evidently fishermen, and all, old and young, were clad in their best blue jerseys or sleeved waistcoats. Among the women the Macneill tartan was conspicuous. The younger women wore little kerchiefs falling back from their hair, sometimes held in place by foreign-looking combs or pins. Their dress Was generally a blouse and skirt, the lineal successor, differently worn, of the jacket and petticoat of the elder women who, moreover, wore a shawl which covered head and shoulders. All were neat, and looked far more picturesque than some half-dozen who wore hats, generally of a startling variety, imported from Glasgow. The occasion was obviously a special one, and, as we soon discovered, was the farewell service for the men going off to the “loch fishing"—which unfortunately takes off the able-bodied men just at the time of year when they are most wanted to look after the crops, thus leaving all the heavier work for the women.

It was a pathetic and interesting sight. All joined heartily in the Service and in the hymns of praise to Our Lady Star of the Sea. They listened attentively to the sermon, in Gaelic of course, which was special to the occasion, and made reference to the dangers before them, to the separation from home and friends, to the likelihood that never again would just that congregation meet together; for even for those who remained, death was near, and on the sea a thousand dangers were for ever plotting against the life of man.

And indeed the life of the fisherman is one of fearful risk, and we heard often of men dying from cold, and exhaustion, and fatigue, apart even from all the dangers from wind and wave never absent in those fearful seas.

The chance visitor who sees the fisherman lying asleep in the sun, and talks thenceforward, with a show of authority, about the idleness of the Highlanders, little realizes the likelihood that such a man has been out all night. Starting early in the afternoon, a crew of perhaps six, they may have to run twelve or fifteen miles up the coast in search of the herring. Their skill in discovering the whereabouts of the fish is like an extra sense. Without waiting for the phosphorescent shimmer of the water, before even the plunging of the solan-goose, or the swoop of the gulls have revealed its presence, they will point to some distant patch of water and tell you “the fish has come.” There are times when they smell it, long before the fastidious nose of the landsman is in the least conscious of its presence; at other times they tell you they feel it in the air.

Much to our regret we were never out with any boat “on business,” though, with the same boats in their leisure hours, we were familiar enough. The hold is broad and open, and the forecastle incredibly small, though it is all they have for shelter, and cooking, and sleeping, when sleep is possible. In the absence of personal observation, I borrow Buchanan’s graphic description of the night’s work (The Hebrid Isles. Robert Buchanan. Chapter v.):

“One man grips the helm, another seizes the back rope of the net, a third the skunk or body, a fourth is placed to see the buoys clear and heave them out, the rest attend forward, keeping a sharp look-out for other nets, ready, in case the boat should run too fast, to steady her by dropping the anchor a few fathoms into the sea. When all the nets are out, the boat is brought bow on to the nets, the ‘ swing ’ (as they call the rope attached to the nets) secured to the smack’s ‘bits’ and all hands then lower the mast as quickly as possible. The mast lowered, secured, and made all clear for hoisting at a moment's notice, and the candle lantern set up in the iron stand made for the purpose of holding it, the crew leave one look-out on deck, and turn in below for a nap in their clothes . . . daybreaks, and every man is on deck. All hands are busy at work taking the nets in over the bow, two supporting the body, the rest hauling the back rope, save one, who draws the net into the hold, and another who arranges it from side to side in the hold to keep the vessel even. Tweet! Tweet! that thin cheeping sound, resembling the razor-like call of the bat, is made by the dying herrings at the bottom of the boat. The sea to leeward, the smack’s hold, the hands and arms of the men are gleaming like silver. As many of the fish as possible are shaken loose during the process of hauling in, but the rest are left in the net until the smack gets to shore. Three or four hours pass away in this wet and tiresome work. At last, however, the nets are all drawn in, the mast is hoisted, the sail set. . . . Everywhere on the water, see the fishing-boats making for the same bourne, blessing their luck or cursing their misfortune, just as the events of the night may have been. All sail is set if possible, and it is a wild race to the market. Even when the anchorage is reached, the work is not quite finished ; for the fish has to be measured out in cran2 baskets and delivered at the curing-station. By the time that the crew have got their morning dram, have arranged their nets snugly in the stern, and have had some herrings for dinner, it is time to be off again to the harvest-field.”

Everywhere, and in Barra especially, we were told that tho fishing was not nearly so profitable as it used to be. In the present year (1901), though it seemed to us that the harbours both of Castle Bay and Stornoway were crowded with masts, both local and foreign—of which more elsewhere—we were told that hundreds had gone away, for the fish was very scarce.

In Barra, in the old days, at the end of the eighteenth century (Old Statistical Account), the average take during the spring-fishing (end of March to end of June) was 1,000 to 1,500 ling to each boat, and the twenty or thirty boats which then represented the great fleet of the present time would take, “one year with another, 30,000 ling besides cod. . . . They carry their fish to Glasgow in the very boats they use at the fishing, where the ling sell from £5 to £6 the hundred. Herring has often been got here in great abundance, but the want of salt has sometimes prevented the inhabitants from deriving any considerable advantage from it.” That must, of course, have been before the establishment of organized curing-stations. The fish-curers of the present day seldom belong to the island: they come not only from the east coast of Scotland, but from Grimsby and Yarmouth, from Holland and Germany, and even from Russia.

In old days the dogfish and the cuddy had a value for their oil, which sold at sevenpence or eightpence the Scotch pint, and often sufficed to pay the rent. Oil, too, was taken from the seath or coalfish (in Gaelic piocach), and also from the seal.

Even in the good old days, however, it does not seem as if there had ever been an exclusively fishing population. It is quite in vain to contrast the fisherman of the Hebrides with his brother of the east coast, whose hunting-ground is very different.

The fact is obvious enough to any observer not a proprietor, but—always with the desire of excluding mere personal prejudice—I again quote from the often-quoted Report on the Crofters' Commission :

“On this island no fisherman can live from the produce of the sea alone, owing to the tempestuous nature of the coast, and the want of a ready transit to the markets. Those, then, who follow the profession of fisherman should have as much land as would keep two cows, and those who live by the land alone should have their present holdings greatly enlarged and rented according to the value of the soil. . . . The cause of the prevailing poverty is easily arrived at: it is the want of land. The land is particularly hilly and rocky, yet there is enough of good land if it were divided among the people.”

The evidence goes on to show that the better half is held by large farmers, as has already been stated.

The people, here and elsewhere, were moved from their native glens in the expectation that they would at once become fishermen, and that, irrespective of any consideration as to the skill and knowledge they possessed, or even whether, as was very unlikely, they had boats suitable for the purpose, for the inshore fishing is precarious in the extreme, even if there were any possibility of fresh fish reaching the market. Mr. Fraser Mackintosh entertained great hope that the opening of the railway to Mallaig, this year accomplished, might have good results in this direction ; but carriage by railway has not always shown itself beneficial to the home-market, and one must not be too sanguine. Moreover, there is not at present any direct communication between Barra and Mallaig, so that any advantage as to markets is more likely to fall to the northern end of the Long Island.

Even if the whole 22,000 acres of Barra were divided among the people they would not have more than seems really needful to supply such necessaries of life as they enjoyed under the former proprietors.

“It is doubtful,” the Report of the Crofters Commission admits, “whether it is of any use to give holdings to fishermen without land. The west coast crofters are not historically a seafaring people. While in many cases both good boatmen and daring sailors, they cannot be persuaded to trust entirely to the sea for a living.”

Just as one associates the kelp industry with Tyree, and the land troubles with South Uist, so in Barra one’s attention is inevitably called, before all else, to the fishing industry.

The grievances of the Barra fisherman, apart altogether from his grievances as a crofter, seem especially hard when one realizes that now the kelp industry is decaying and his position as a crofter is almost untenable, the fishing is all he has to look to. As we shall see in another chapter, even Nature and the fluctuations of commerce have treated him hardly; but such conditions are the almost inevitable consequence of our civilization. His worst difficulties are such as ought never to exist. They have been stated on various public occasions and before Parliament, but redress is slow. Under an Act of 1770-1, known as the White Fisheries Act, the land, or rather rocky waste within 100 yards of the highest high-water mark, is free to fishermen for drying their nets. For such land, already included in ground for which crofters are paying rent, it was stated in evidence at a meeting of 1,000 fishermen belonging both to Barra and the east coast, a second rent was being charged, often to the same men in their capacity of fishermen ; i.e. for six weeks’ use of their own rocks for drying nets, a rent of 1s. 6d. to 10s. is exacted per boat, while a third and similar rent is also taken from the alien fishermen for the same purpose.

The crofters, who were very friendly with tho east-coast fishermen, and anxious to oblige them, would have done so to the utmost of their power, but naturally considered that the profit, if indeed any profit at all were legal, should go into their own pocket. One east-coast witness, from Lossiemouth, said that “speaking for about 2,000 fishermen they would not object to pay £1 per boat for good land to dry their nets on, but they refused to pay 7s. 6d. per boat for what was called net land, 75 per cent, of which was bare rock within 100 yards of the sea-shore.”

Another grievance is connected with the Barra system of private curing-stations—the little piers, with huts adjoining, which have been already referred to. It was stated that for forty-six such stations put up entirely by the curers themselves, at a cost varying from £200 to £1,000, on patches of bare rock close by the sea, totally worthless for any purpose, they were paying a rental of £410; that when a curer, as was very probable, became bankrupt or left disheartened, he received no compensation, but that the whole benefit of their improvements and expenditure passed to the estate often to be re-let at greatly increased rent. In one recent case such a station, rented at £7, was, on the death of the man who built and maintained it, re-let for £30, with an assurance that the rent would be subsequently raised to £60.

The whole question of the Fisheries is now before Parliament, and such facts being made public must —in a civilized and Christian country—ultimately receive attention, though there are no doubt many complexities which will require time to adjust.


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