Grievances Told to the Napier Commission

The Napier Commission came to Miavaig on 4 June 1883, led by Lord Napier, and took evidence from Murdo Maclean, fishcurer in Valtos, Donald Matheson Kneep and Norman Morrison Brenish, and from the Chamberlain, William Mackay. Among the grievances enumerated by the crofters were issues to do with the keeper and shooting tenants in the area.

Murdo Maclean: [The people] cannot do without heather ropes in order to fasten the thatch upon their houses. There is one day set apart by the gamekeeper upon which you are allowed to go and pull heather to make these ropes, and if you cannot attend on that day, you are not allowed on any other day. If you do, you are liable to be fined for it. Now, it so happened that last year the male population were away at the fishing, and they had only left their wives and children at home, and they were not able to have the heather ropes prepared in time, and they lost their corn because they had no ropes to secure it. That was in the great gale of October. My idea is that they could have secured a far greater amount of corn than they were able to secure, if they had had the ropes prepared at the time. It would not matter if it was a gamekeeper or a large farmer or anyone belonging to them that would see them pulling this heather. If they were reported it would be worse for them than if Sir James Matheson during his life had seen every one of them.

Donald Matheson: In addition to the sufferings we endure through the shepherds, we are also injured very much by the deer-forest. Supposing any of our own cattle are feeding out upon our own moorland pasture, no one is allowed by the regulations of the estate to attend to them or follow them except the herd. Even supposing any of them had a broken leg, no other person is entitled to go and look after it. Supposing any of the sheep were losing their wool, or anything of that sort, we are not allowed to go after them to shear them. One day is appointed for that purpose, and if the sheep are not found on that day they must go without being shorn at all.

Has the herd the right to go a second time? Yes, he has the right, but when the sportsmen come he must look out. Do the deer damage your crofts at all? Not in our particular township, but in other parts of the parish they injure the crops. Is there a fence for keeping the deer in? No, they have the run of our own moorland pasture for grouse and shooting. The grazing of Valtos comes between us and the actual forest, but the sportsmen have the run of all the ground for shooting purposes. He has the right to go through our crops in the shooting season, and he exercises the right of gong through our crops and shooting snipe along the shore and elsewhere. I would say five or six times in the season. The shooting tenant pays £700 to £800 for the privilege of shooting over what is our ground and the ground of the neighbouring crofters – the moorland pasture – throughout the whole parish. The proprietor gets that amount of money without any outlay whatever on the place.

Do the gamekeepers molest you or do you any hurt? We have nothing to complain of in that respect, except the matter of the heather. The hill is set apart at the beginning of autumn, and if we cannot get at the heather that week we must do without, whatever injury may befall us for want of it.

See also Norman Morrison’s testimony.