Work in Progress (May 2017)
Part 3. Port Ramsay: Cradle of Master Mariners
In the second half of the 18th century, the township of Fennachrochan stretched across the north end of the island, from Alastra across Laggan and the Big Park nearly to Point (see Part 1). The adjacent township of Achuaran then included a strip of land stretching along the coast to what was called the Point of Achuaran (or Ruardgainich). General Roy’s Military Map of 1750 (see Part 2) shows no buildings on Fennachrochan or at Point, although the Port Appin ferry is marked on the mainland side. Both Fennachrochan and Achuaran were owned by Lt Col Sir John Campbell of Airds (1767-1834).
Port Ramsay today
In his “Tour through the Highlands of Scotland and the Hebride Isles in 1786” John Knox notes that;
At the north-east end of Lismore, there is a small island, which defends a bay, sufficiently extensive for all the purposes of fisheries and coasting business. The benefits of a port and market, both to the natives of this island, and the shores upon the Linnhe Loch, must appear obvious to any person who has the map or chart before him.
In the First Statistical Account (1791) Rev Donald McNicol records that:
The best anchoring about the island, for vessels of any burden, is in the narrow sound between Ramasa and Lismore, near the north point of the island. There is likewise very safe anchoring a little to the west of Ramasa, in the Bay of Island Lochoscair (Oscar’s Island), by Buchananan termed Molochoscair, where vessels of any burden can conveniently ride in a pretty safe road, and free of any breakers.
These accounts indicate that Port Ramsay did not exist at the end of the 18th century. This is confirmed by the “List of Fencible Men” drawn up in 1804 for recruitment to the Argyll & Bute Militia, which does not include any men from Port Ramsay. As a senior officer in the militia, Sir John would have required his tenants to serve.
Port Ramsay from the south today
The Founding Families
According to the Old Parish Record, the first child born in the new settlement of Port Ramsay was Cathrine, daughter of Dugald McCorquodale and Cathrine McLean, baptized in 1811. Over the decade to 1819, the following 13 couples had children there:
Dugald McCorquodale & Cathrine McLean Births at PR 1811, 1813, 1815
Donald Black & Sarah McPhail Births at PR 1812, 1814, 1817
Alexander McColl & Mary McCallum Births at PR 1814, 1816, 1819
Mary born Balure 1795
Hugh & Mary McCorquodale Births at PR 1814, 1815, 1818
Duncan Black & Janet McGrigor Births at Achuran 1803, 1806, 1808, 1810, 1813. Births at PR 1815, 1816, 1819
John McCorquodale & Mary McKillop Births at Kilcheran 1809, 1811, 1813, 1817. Birth at PR 1815. Mary McKillop widow of John McCorquodale, weaver, PR. Born Achnard. Died 1862 at PR, aged 72.
John and Mary McColl Births at Fennachrochan 1811, 1814.
Births at PR 1816, 1819
John born Fennachrochan 1777
Alexander McGrigor & Jane Rennie Births at Achuran 1809, 1811, 1813, 1814
Births at PR 1816, 1818
John McGrigor & Seipily Cameron Births at PR 1816, 1817, 1819
Donald McIntyre & Mary Campbell Births at PR 1817, 1819
John McCorquodale & Ann McKenzie Birth at PR 1818
Duncan McInnes & Ann Campbell Birth at PR 1818
Donald McNiven & Ann Campbell Birth at PR 1818
These baptism dates show that people moved into Port Ramsay from the surrounding townships of Achuaran and Fennachrochan but also from further afield including Kilcheran. The range of first baptism dates (bold) also suggests that the settlement proceeded progressively during the decade, possibly as houses were built (for example the immigrants from Achuaran who did not move until 1815/16). John McCorquodale and Mary McKillop, seem to have been at Port Ramsay only in 1815 but we know that they were permanent residents later.
Combining information from two sources (List of Church Communicants/ Heads of Household 1834; Airds rental 1839/40) gives the following suggested households in the 1830s (but not necessarily all at the same time). There must have been around 15 houses by that time.
John McCorquodale senr
John McCorquodale jnr
Hugh McCorquodale (widow McCorquodale 1839?)
Alexander McCormick or McCarmaig
Alexander McGregor (widow McGregor (1839)
John Campbell (1834)
Duncan McKellaich (1834)
John McKay (1834)
Peter Hastie (1834)
Archibald McCarmaig (1839)
This list can be checked against the list of couples having children during the 1830s:
Archibald Campbell & Mary Kennedy
Dugald Carmichael & Sarah Kieth
John Drummond & Catherine McKenzie
Peter Hastie & Sarah McKinnon
Alexander McCorquodale & Ann McColl
Hugh McCorquodale & Mary Black
John McCorquodale & Ann McKenzie
John McDonald & Cathrine Fletcher
Alexander McGrigor & Jane Rennie
Alexander McLeod & Cathrine McKay
Hugh Campbell & Ann McLachlan
Donald McColl & Cathrine Black
Alexander McCormick & Cathrine McGrigor
First Census 1841
The 1841 Census give the first full snapshot of a community of 69 people in 15 households (with notes in italics about their origins, with the help of Laura Gloag):
Jean McGregor 45 Tenant
James McGregor 15
Jean McGregor 15
Margret McGregor 10
Duncan McCorquodale 25 Male servant
Malcom McCorquodale 13 Male servant
This was Jean Rennie, widow of Alexander McGregor, one of the original arrivals in PR from Achuaran around 1816. She was born in Kilsyth.
Alexr (McCormick) 40 Tenant
Cathrine “ 25
Alexr “ 5
Angus “ 3
Duncan “ 1
Anne Black 25 Female servant
The first appearance of McCormicks in Port Ramsay is the 1834 birth of Ann, who must have died before 1841. McCormicks as McCarmaig first appear in the Lismore parish records at Craignich in the 1790s. Alexander had 26 acres at PR by 1851. In the 1850s he had a substantial holding in Fennachrochan, paying £70 in rent.
Alexr (McCormick) 55 Independent
Mary “ 30
John McCorquodale 50 Tenant
Sarah McCorquodale 50
Sarah McCorquodale 12
John McCorquodale and Sarah Black were cotters at Achuaran (births 1815, 1817, 1820) moving to PR some time before 1828 (birth of son John, who reappears in the 1851 census). In 1861 John senior (80) was crofter of 4 acres.
Duncan Black 60 Tenant
Janet Black 60
Niel Black 6
Duncan Black and Janet McGrigor arrived in PR from Achuaran around 1816. He was a crofter (aged 72) of 6 acres in 1851 but absent in 1861. He is likely to be the Duncan Black (aged 83), cooper, who died at Achuaran in 1860. He is not to be confused with the Duncan Black at Park, married to Sally Black, in the same period (see the separate article on Park).
John McCorquodale 25 Labourer
Anne McCorquodale 25
Dugald McCorquodale 1
Donald Connel 55 Weaver
Janet Connel 55
The Connels were from either Balnagown or Baluachdarach (probably the latter), arriving in Port Ramsay by 1834.
John McCorquodale 25 Tenant
Mary McCorquodale 25
Donald McCorquodale 15
John McCorquodale 6
Angus Cameron 40 Shoemaker (not born in parish)
John McCorquodale, married to Mary Carmichael, was the son of John McCorquodale (shipmaster) and Ann McKenzie In Baligarve. He is described as a crofter of 2 acres in 1851, but died, a shipmaster, aged 71, in 1888.
Scipily McGregor 40 Independent (not born in Argyll)
Malcom McGregor 15
Scipily McGregor (née Cameron), was the widow of John McGregor who died at PR in 1826. She was a cotter in PR in 1851 and died there in 1858, aged 63.
Anne Campbell 35 Tenant
Donald Campbell 14
John Campbell 12
Lachlan Campbell 10
Jean Campbell 5
Hugh Campbell 2
Anne Campbell 1
Hugh Campbell & Anne McLachlan came to PR from Inverscaddle in Ardgour after 1837. They had left Lismore by 1851.
Dugald Carmichael 35 Tenant
Sally Carmichael 35
Dugald Carmichael 14
Peggy Carmichael 12
Cathrine Carmichael 10
John Carmichael 7
Hugh Carmichael 5
Sally Carmichael 3
Niel Carmichael 6 months
The Carmichael family were in Glasgow at the time of the 1851 census, en route for N America. They arrived in New York on the “President” on 19 May and later moved to Ontario.
Mary MacCorquodale 40
Archd MacCorquodale 15
Dugald MacCorquodale 9
Janet MacCorquodale 8
Mary Black was the widow of Hugh McCorquodale who arrived at PR around 1814. In 1851 she was the tenant of 2 acres and her son Allan (b 1823) was a sailor.
John Drummond 40 Tenant
Cathrine Drummond 35
Janet Drummond 14
Anne Drummond 12
James Drummond 10
Cathrine Drummond 8
Robert Drummond 6
Donald Drummond 4
John Drummond 1
Bell Drummond 1
Janet Drummond was born to John & Cathrine at Ardnaclach, Appin in 1827. By 1828 they were at Port Ramsay for the birth of Ann who must have died by 1841. In 1851 John was a crofter of 2 acres and his son James was a Sailor.
Donald McDonald 40 Tenant
Jean McDonald 40
John McDonald 15
Not traced, gone by 1851. The family not to be confused with Duncan McDonald the boatbuilder, or with John McDonald shipmaster, who had arrived in PR by 1861.
John McColl 60 Tenant
Mary McColl 55
John McColl 25
Donald McColl 13
Original settlers in PR from Fennachrochan around 1816. Crofter (aged 75) of 2 acres in 1851. Gone, John & Mary probably deceased, by 1861.
The Later Community
The 1841 and 1851 Census returns do not record occupations consistently. Most residents in PR were recorded as “tenants or crofters”, although at least one head of household in 1851 was a sailor, later a ship master. The evolution of the settlement as a maritime centre is more clearly reflected in the occupations from 1861 onwards.
15 households, 69 people
Heads of household: 10 tenants, 2 independent, 1labourer, 1 weaver
Other occupations: 2 servants, 1 shoemaker
14 households, 78 people
Heads of household: 10 crofters, 1 farmer, 2 cotters, 1 pauper
Other occupations: 3 labourers, 3 servants, 2 sailors, 1 shepherd, 1 sergeant
16 households, 76 people
Heads of household: 4 crofters, 4 ship captain/master/owners (McCorquodale, Carmichael, McDonald), 2 boat builder/ship carpenters, 2 seaman/mariners, 2 paupers, 1 shoemaker
Other occupations” 8 servants, 3 sailors, 1 boatbuilder, 1 quarryman, 1 schoolmaster
16 households, 66 people
Heads of household: 5 ship owner/masters (McCorquodale, Carmichael, McDonald), 4 servants, 3 retired, 1 fisherman, 1 boat builder, 1 lime burner, 1 quarryman
Other occupations: 7 servants, 2 seamen, 1 fisherman, 1 boatbuilder
14 households, 63 people
Heads of household: 4 crofters, 3 ship captains (McCorquodale, McFadyen, McKinnon), 3 quarriers, 1 master seaman, 1 boatbuilder, 1 labourer, 1 cottar
Other occupations: 8 seaman/sailors, 3 servants, 1 boatbuilder, 1 crofter, 1 gardener
The Helen Brown, a MacFadyen smack, leaving Tiree
16 households, 62 people
Heads of household: 4 mariner/sailor/seamen (McDonald, McKinnon, McCorquodale, McFadyen), 4 crofters, 3 retired, 2 farmers, 2 labourers, 1 mason
Other occupations: 4 mariner/sailors, 2 servants, 1 lime merchant, 1 labourer
13 households, 43 people
Heads of household: 7 crofters, 2 mariner/seamen (McFadyen), 1 limeworker, 1 road contractor, 1 cottar
Other occupations: 2 mariner/seamen, 1 lime merchant
11 households, 35 people
Heads of household: 4 crofters, 2 smack masters (Carmichael. McFadyen), 1 quarryman, 1 roadman, 1 private means, 1 retired
Other occupations: 1 smackhand, 1 boatbuilder.
Gathering The Evidence
Sir John Campbell of Airds (1767-1834) was a man of business, exploring opportunities on Lismore; playing an active part in the Argyll & Bute militia; and petitioning the authorities (unsuccessfully) to be allowed, formally, to be the 6th Baronet of Ardnamurchan and Airds (even though four generations of ancestors had recognized that the title could only be “by courtesy” because of illegitimacy). He is noted in the Second Statistical Account as an enthusiastic agricultural Improver in Appin.
As the archive of the Airds family has not survived to the present day, understanding Sir John’s policies for his Lismore lands can only be informed speculation. However, the documented scheme for kelp harvesting on Fennachrochan in 1790/91 shows that he aimed to increase the income from his island townships. This scheme was not a great success, but the comments of visitors such as John Knox about the value of the bay inside Ramsay Island, and the removal of the tax on coal deliveries, must have convinced him about the possibility of building a lime kiln on his land and servicing it from the sea. It is clear from the fact that the settlement was called “Port Ramsay” from the start that he intended it to be a port and not just another crofter township.
Some time before 1810, the founding families started to move to the new settlement, where they were required to build houses at their own expense.
There was strict control by the proprietor over the sites and standards of house building, establishing the present day pattern. With slated roofs, they would have been superior to most homes on Lismore. However, once built, they were the property of each family on a 30 year lease. It is not known how Sir John chose the founding families, although several arrived from the surrounding townships on his estate. He certainly did not bring in many settlers from the mainland. Birth records suggest that there was a community of at least 13 households by 1820. The Revd. John Campbell, on a preaching tour in 1818, reported: “I proposed preaching at Ramsay about two miles from the ferry. This is a modern village opposite a small island … from which it takes its name. It contains about 14 slated houses”.
Each household was allowed 2-3 acres of arable ground and the right to pasture one cow on the 65 acres of common grazing. The cropping area was on the present-day hayfields above Port Ramsay – but there are also traces of rigs immediately behind the houses. As this was not enough to support a family, the head of household and his children would be expected to earn their living in activities that enhanced the economy of the estate. It is likely that Sir John would have preferred men with experience of the sea and lime burning but even the 1841 census gives few clues to the skills brought to Port Ramsay, beyond weaving and shoemaking. The exceptions were the McCorquodales, mariners from Kilcheran and Achuaran.
There is no documentary evidence about the building of the Park limekilns, although it is clear that the northern kiln is earlier and not built to the same standard as the southern kiln. In his “General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides” (1811), James McDonald refers to lime kilns at three places on Lismore, identifying only Bishop Chisholm’s kiln at Kilcheran; and the 1804 Militia List refers to a lime burner on Sheep Island. It is possible, then, that the Park kiln was the third. There is also no evidence for the construction of the pier. However, as explained in Part 4, Big Park (now Park) was established as a separate farm including the management of the lime enterprise. The first child born at Big Park to Duncan Black, lime burner, and his wife Sally, was in 1815. It is reasonable, therefore, to assume that the building of the first limekiln and the first house at Park, occurred around the same time that Port Ramsay was being established.
It is surprising that, in his 1841 return to the Second Statistical Account, Rev. Gregor MacGregor describes Port Ramsay as a fishing village and does not mention lime quarrying or burning, even though his entry devotes many paragraphs to the slate quarries in Ballachulish. It is possible that further evidence for the early days of the settlement may arise out of the Argyll archive at Inveraray.
Port Ramsay, surveyed by the Ordnance Survey in 1871
When the 30 year leases on the properties in Port Ramsay expired in the 1840s, the Airds Campbells reasserted ownership and rented them out on short term leases, bringing a degree of insecurity to the residents. However, around that time there was significant investment in the houses, probably bringing them up to a higher standard (reslating, unified wall height, mortaring & limewashing). The 1872 Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 map appears to show 12 houses in line (2,8,2 – the modern arrangement) with front gardens, and the modern gaps, but with a series of other buildings behind, at least two of which could be dwellings (e.g. behind house 2, and behind house 13, now a barn, numbering from the north). In 1883, the Napier Report recorded that there were14 houses in a row, said to be under a single slated roof, each with three rooms and a loft. There were two other “unmodernised” houses with thatched roofs, presumably not in the line. It is likely that these house improvements occurred during the 1850s under the ownership of Alexander Haig, an Improving landowner (see separate article on Achuaran, Part 2).
Meanwhile, the census returns describe a community that had adapted to its maritime role. By 1861, there were three indigenous families (McCorquodales, Carmichaels and McDonalds) owning and operating sailing smacks in the coastal trade in coal, lime and slates as well as general cargoes. For the rest of the century, there were resident lime quarriers, burners and merchants. In the 1870s, they were joined by ship owners and captains from Tiree: McFadyens and McKinnons, and the fleet was supported by boat builders and ship carpenters. This was an impressive community; in the words of the factor, John Fraser Sim, in 1883 “These men are enterprising ; they go elsewhere. Oban would not be what it is to-day were it not for the Lismore people who went there.” Port Ramsay was also impressive in its ability to hold a population of 60-70 people throughout the century, when the population of Lismore was in steep decline.
The problems that the Port Ramsay tenants experienced in the last quarter of the 19th century, and the attitudes of the factor and landowner can be explored in the Appendix. Following the publication of the Napier Report, the Port Ramsay rents were reduced significantly.
Boatbuilders’ sawpit, Port Ramsay
Campbell A. (1853). Missionary and Ministerial Life in the Highlands. Edinburgh: A Fullerton.
Census data 1841-1911
Kelp Account 1790/1. Argyll Papers Bundle 290.
Knox J. (1787). A Tour Through the Highlands of Scotland, and the Hebride Isles, in 1786. London: J Walter.
List of Church Communicants, being male heads of family. 2 August 1834
7 pages original handwritten document, thought to have been copied from church records now lost. Recovered for the Lismore archive from Hawthorn House, March 2010.
List of Lismore men liable to serve in the militia. 1804. 18 September. Copy in
the Lismore archive.
McDonald J (1811). General View of the Agriculture of the Hebrides. London: R Philips.
McGregor G. (1841). Second Statistical Account of Scotland. United Parish of Lismore and Appin.
McNicol D. (1791). First Statistical Account of Scotland., Vol. 1. LII. United Parishes of Lismore and Appin.
NRS GD174/1166 Particulars and Rental of the Farms for sale by Campbell of
Airds., 1839/40. Copy in the Lismore archive.
Old Parish Records, Lismore Parish. 1766-1854. Copies in the Lismore archive
Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Crofters and Cotters in the Highlands of Scotland (18884). (Napier Commission).
Evidence from the Napier Commission Report (1883)
Hugh Carmichael, Crofter, Port Ramsay (57)
36997. The Chairman.—Have you a statement to make?—I don’t like
to go on with my evidence, because it may be that I may suffer for it; and I hear other people getting the assurance that they will suffer no injury. I wish to get that assurance.
36998. Whose land are you upon?—Mr Fell’s.—Mr Sim, factor. I may state at once that Hugh and I have known each other for twenty years, and no harm will happen to him in consequence of what he may say. I think I have heard worse things from him than he is likely to say to-day.—Carmichael. I shall say nothing but the truth; but people sometimes suffer for the truth. I have held my croft in Port- Ramsay for the last twenty-eight years. There are sixteen of us. Our lots consist of two acres of arable land, upon an average, within the fence, and the cattle pasture in common outside, and we have a herd for them. We have only one cow each; and if one tenant had the whole place, he would not put on more than eight cows, instead of sixteen. We require to sell the calves, because there is no way of keeping a stirk. Every one of the cows would die in summer for want of pasture, if it were not that we hand-feed them now and again. The rent is £5 and £6 each. I have two lots myself, and I pay £10, 8s. 6d., including a small sum for interest upon improvements.
36999. Have you two cows?—Yes.
37000. You spoke of common pasture. What do you keep on it – cows or sheep? —I have no sheep.
37001. What do you do with the two acres of arable land?—We pay £4 for the ploughing of these two acres which we have in single lots, cropping them with potatoes and oats alternately.
37002. Have any of you horses?—We have no place to keep a horse ; we have no place to keep even a hen, unless we send them down to the sea-shore.
37003. Have the rents of these small crofts been increased during your memory? —Not since I have lived in the place.
37004. How long ago is that?—Twenty-eight years.
37005. Has any of the common hill pasture been taken away from you? —We never had more than we have; but it is commons that we want- additional pasture.
37006. Have the crofts been subdivided, or are they as large as they always were?—Just as they were.
37007. You have two acres of arable ground and pasture for one cow, for £5 or £6, and a cow’s grazing upon the common pasture. You say that common pasture does not support the cow for the summer ?—Yes.
37008. How do you feed the cow in winter ?—The cows are better off in winter; the crop feeds them then. We sometimes buy a little fodder at sales, when people are leaving their places and that.
37009. Do you thresh your own corn, and use it for the food of your families?—Yes, and we grind whatever we have.
37010. How much of the two acres do you generally keep in potatoes? —Just the half, alternate crop.
37011. You have nearly an acre of potatoes every year ?—Yes.
37012. Has the potato crop been pretty good of late years here?— Pretty good; but it goes with disease occasionally.
37013. If you have a fair year of potatoes, how long does the produce of one acre of potatoes last in your family ?—The potatoes and what we make of meal altogether would not keep the family for three months.
37014. How do you support your family ?—The people cannot succeed in our place without extra help. The members of the family who can work go about here and there working in order to keep the family there altogether; and some of them have grown old in the condition of bachelors, and are not able to make a home for themselves. They don’t require to be sent away from the place—the place itself sends them away; they cannot remain.
37015. Do you work for wages yourself?—No, I never worked for a wage. I had a small vessel—a smack—and went about with it. Those who earn wages in this place are those who have smacks, and tradesmen; the common labourer can scarcely keep a family.
37016. Do you go with the smack?—Not for the last five years; I have not been so strong; my sons go. They are working away in it there; but they are not able to keep the place very well with it.
37017. Have you a share in the vessel yourself?—Yes; the whole of the earnings of the vessel go to keep the house. It is manned by the family.
37018. What sort of trade are you engaged in?—Lime and stone and slate and that—about all the local traffic. The railway has injured the lime traffic. They bring it to Oban by rail now. My smack, and many others, has been quite idle for the last two months. We have only made one cargo of it
37019. What kind of house have you got? Perhaps it is better than is usual ?—Yes; the houses are all in a row, under one roof, fourteen of them. They were built by the people entirely at their own expense. We built the houses upon a thirty years’ lease, and at the expiry of the lease we were so foolish as to take a short lease; and at its expiry the proprietor, Sir John Campbell of Airds, charged them rent for it.
37020. Do you pay a separate rent, or is it included in the £5 or £6 ? —There are two of the lots still with thatched houses upon them, and the rent of these is only £3. The lots are quite as good as ours. I don’t know whether the houses there were built by the landlord or by the tenants. The lots and houses, put together, in these cases are only £3.
37021. Have there been any evictions or arbitrary removals in your township?—No, we have no fault to find with him in that way. The rent itself is so large that it is sufficient to evict them; they go off of their own accord, and there have not been many applicants for the vacant places.
37022. When a person goes away is his holding generally let to another ?—A neighbour may get it, or a new applicant may get it.
37023. And is a man better off with two lots at £10, than with one lot at £5 ?—A man has to work upon it anyhow; and, if he had a young family to do some work, probably he would be better off with the double croft.
37024. Has the land become exhausted, or does it bear as good crops as it used to do when it was properly tilled ?—It must be weak by continuous cropping.
37025. Where do you get your manure from?—We take it off the sea- rocks, and drown ourselves sometimes taking it ashore.
37026. Is it contiguous to your own township?—The shore was portioned out just like the crofts in Sir John Campbell’s time, and it has continued so; so that we have got a part of the shore for our township.
37027. You don’t pay anything for it?—No.
37028. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Whom did you succeed twenty-eight years ago?—A widow, whose family wished to leave the place, gave it up.
37029. Was it this widow’s family who built the house ?—Yes, it was that family who built the house.
37030. And you have no complaint to make on the score of having forfeited the house after thirty years ?—No, I only express the complaint, of the people that the rents are high. The children of those who built these houses are in here to-day.
37031. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.—You say you want pasture to keep your cows ; is there any land convenient that can be given to you ?—We march with crofters.
37032-3. Is there any land upon Mr Fell’s estate which you might get ? —Yes, there is a piece of hill pasture which the proprietor might give us if we asked him, and we are thinking of doing so. We pay £64 for the ploughing of these crofts, and we think this pasture would not come to so much, and it would keep some cattle too. We pay now twice the amount that we did some time ago for the ploughing of these crofts. The reason is that the big farmers have plenty of work upon their own farms, and they don’t like to do the work for us unless they got more for it than the work is worth. The interest of some repairs made upon the house, amounting to about 18s. in each case, has been charged against us for some seventeen or eighteen years back. This is a virtual increase of rent, and we pay rates upon interest as well as upon the rent. There was also peat ground formerly, but now there is none.
JOHN FRASER SIM, Solicitor and Land Agent, Oban (41)
37267 ……It has been mentioned that a petition was sent by the Port Ramsay tenants, with the view of inducing the proprietor to reduce their rents. I should like to read the reply which Mr Fell sent to me; for the petition was not presented to me at the rent collection, but was sent direct to Mr Fell at Carlisle. He says—’ I send you a letter that I have received from the Port Ramsay crofters, on which I shall be glad to have your remarks. If the crofters are too highly rented, I am willing to have their crofts revalued. But it seems to me that they have combined to put pressure upon me, being apparently encouraged by the sympathy shown to the Skye crofters, whose circumstances and tenure are quite distinct from the crofters in Lismore. I shall distinctly resist any attempt to coerce me. I think the crofter system a bad one. Unless every crofter has another trade or occupation, a crofter living on his croft has no right to expect anything but the most abject penury. His condition is one of idleness and, of necessity, poverty. He does not even till his own ground, but, as I see from the petition, he pays some one else. The crofters’ system should gradually be changed into small farms. In a further letter he desires me specifically to mention to those crofters his wish that the crofts should be revalued. The words which he uses are—Ask the crofters if they want a revaluation of their crofts according to what is paid elsewhere. That is really the gist of the further letter. I took occasion to get the crofters together, and read a petition and Mr Fell’s letter, and they had not a word to say. I mention this fact about Port Ramsay in particular, that those who live there are not crofters in the ordinary sense. Five of them own vessels. One of them carries 65 tons; another 70; another 30 ; and two others 20. There is a boat-builder there, where many of the boats required in the island and elsewhere are built. There is a shopkeeper, a retired farmer, a shoemaker, and four labourers only amongst the number, and one widow woman. These men are enterprising ; they go elsewhere. Oban would not be what it is to-day were it not for the Lismore people who went there. And there is in this meeting one who has benefited himself and his country by leaving the island. In 1853 the rental of the island, on Mr Fell’s estate—and I wish these figures to be borne in mind—was £1315, 15s. 6d.; to-day it is £1224, Is. Mr Fell, the present proprietor, succeeded to the property. The £1224 is divided thus : we have five occupants of agricultural land under £5 ; eleven between £5 and £10; eight between £10 and £30; four between £30 and £50; one between £50 and £100; two between £100 and £200; and one at £200. And in connection with that, I might mention that I have in my possession leases adjusted between proprietor and tenant in 1863 which have not yet been signed. They have been lying twenty years signed by the proprietor, but not by the tenants. If we analyse this, we find the large farms extend to 1450 acres, and give a gross rent of £954, or 13s. 3d. per acre. If we take the detached crofts, excluding Port Ramsay, we find that of these, eight in number, there are 253 acres giving a rental of £161,13s., equivalent to 13s per acre; so that the crofters over the whole property, excluding Port Ramsay, are 3d. per acre cheaper than the larger tenants,
37268. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.—Where do you draw the line between crofters and large tenants?—£30. In Port Ramsay itself, where there are 16 crofters, the area altogether is 114 acres. There are really 3 acres of ground which each crofter has got to himself. There are 65 acres of common, and each crofter has got a house, slated, containing three rooms on the ground floor and a loft overhead, a cow’s grazing, his croft for potatoes, and the right to cut sea-ware, and for that they have to pay an average rent of £6, 6s. 6d. If we had them in Oban we should charge them double straight off. The rent of Port Ramsay in 1853 was £ 83 ; the rent to-day is £89, 6s. 6d; and in the interval we have spent upon Port Ramsay alone in improvements upon those crofts and the houses connected with them, £437, ls. 9d.; so that after debiting them with £437 of extra capital we have an increase in return of about £6. It was made out to-day that a large number of the houses were erected by the original settlers there. That I take to be the fact. I hold in my hands the rental of the property now Mr Fell’s, which was then Sir John Campbell’s, signed W. Hastie, who was ground officer. He puts this footnote to it —The leases of the Port Ramsay houses being out, the houses now falling to Sir John must be looked into; in other words it was time to make an increase in the rent. But the rent of £83 was continued till 1853, and now after all this expenditure of £400 odds it only amounts to £89, 6s. 6d. another fact which I think a helpful one in connection with the property is this. In 1852, when Mr Fell’s predecessor bought the property from Sir John Campbell’s trustees, they bought along with the property the arrears of rent amounting to £588, 3s. At November last, when I made up my account, the total arrears only amounted to £ 51 , 5s. 3d., and the whole of this arrear has been paid up honestly and faithfully. Port Ramsay is the sea-port of this island. It has been properly described by Hugh Carmichael who was forward here to-day, and he gave a truthful account of how the thing stood; only he omitted to say that Mr Fell not merely collects the rents, but keeps the whole houses in repair. He laid out £100 in draining six acres of ground intended to be little patches of vegetable ground—kail-yards—for them, and this now is lying part of the common waste. I beg leave to mention one of these things which it is desirable now to mention. Mr Fell writes me a letter that their troubles have been laid before him. He says—- Let the tenants know that I will share their troubles with them. You can at any rate give them back —I shan’t state the amount—per cent, off this half year, and the future must speak for itself. I cannot form the opinion of what the tenants are able to pay, and I wish you, bearing in mind my interests, to say whether this percentage …..
37269. The Chairman.—I have no objection to hear the percentage? —I do not wish to mention it, because I did not act upon it.
37270. From what I see it is a handsome percentage, but I do not see that the rest of the audience should not profit by it %—I shall tell you. ‘ Is there any material difference in the circumstances on different farms, ‘ or is one equal to another in the matter of prosperity ? In some cases I gave the people off 50 per cent, in others only 10. I used my own discretion. I wish to point out that Mr Fell makes the interest of the tenants his own…….
37290. Now there is no large farmer here to-day complaining of increase of rent, but small crofters were. I understood you wished to meet that by saying there was a reduction of rent over the whole estate? —No; I meant to say that at Port Ramsay, where the only increase of rent has been, we have laid out £400, of which only a portion is charged in the shape of interest.