The following statement by Mr William Gunn, factor for the Duchess of Sutherland on the Cromartie estates, was read:
—' My Lord Napier and Gentlemen,
Crofter Commissioners meeting at Dingwall. When I had the unexpected honour of addressing you at the above meeting I was anxious that not a day nor an hour should elapse before entering my protest against the astounding statements and assertions of the two crofters from the " Heights of Strathpeffer." I there and then, I believe to the satisfaction of all unprejudiced minds, disposed of the great majority of their charges, notwithstanding that they mainly dealt with a period long before I came to Ross-shire. There was, however, one statement in particular, which, although it astonished me, I was not at the moment prepared to refute. I mean the statement that they, the delegates, were there by the authority of, and to represent all the croftsrs on the Heights of Strathpeffer except three. I need scarcely point out that this important statement was unsupported by a single particle of evidence. I greatly doubted the assertion at the time, and now I am in a position to give it an emphatic contradiction. There are in all eighty-three crofters on the Strathpeffer property, of whom fifty-nine are on the " Heights," and of this number I have the very best reason for believing there are not a dozen tenants who authorised the two " self-called delegates" to appear in their name, far less to make accusations so entirely out of sympathy with their feelings and wishes. I promised your Lordship to make inquiry into the case of poverty to which such pointed reference was made by John Rose ; and it was with no small difficulty that I got a clue to the family referred to. The head of this family is a man I should say under sixty years of age, who a good many years ago had the misfortune to be deprived of his wife, who still lives an inmate of an institution in the vicinity of the town of Inverness. A daughter, who at present resides in the family, is fatuous, and has, I am informed, a propensity for destroying articles of bed-clothing. Whether this may account for the use of canvas as a substitute for the usual covering I am unable to say, but certain it is that to the outside world —even to the nearest neighbours —the circumstance was unknown until brought to light with such questionable taste by John Rose at Wednesday's meeting. This man has four of a family, who, with the one exception referred to, are doing for themselves. He has a fair average croft of over seven acres arable, at a rent of £ 5 , 7s. 8d., which is not in arrear. He is an industrious man, and of late years he has been much employed on estate labour, sometimes earning considerably over £ 20 in a season. In the early spring of this year he was so employed, and received for his labour the sum of £8, Is. The case of the old woman's cottage, with the hole in the gable, so graphically described by the same person, can be explained as follows :
—The damage occurred during the night in a severe gale of wind. I was apprised of it next day, when two men were at once sent to repair and make the house comfortable. The inmates of the cottage and the men who repaired it can still testify to this. This house, which stands in a very exposed situation, has frequently undergone repair at the Duchess' expense ; and at the time John Rose was making the insinuation of neglect, the estate men were engaged putting this and some other neighbouring cottages into repair for the winter. This fact must have been well known to him, as one of the houses recently so repaired is occupied by his nearest neighbours, who for the last twenty years have occupied a four-acre croft rent free. As to Rose's statement that " the Duchess of Sutherland had only spent £300 in that part of the estate occupied by the crofters whom he represented," this may be true in one sense, as my firm conviction is that Rose simply " represents" himself, and at most one or two others ; —but if he claims to represent the crofters on the " Heights," I am prepared to show that during my own management no less a sum than £700, exclusive of the aforesaid sum of £300 for roads, has been expended on the erection and repair of crofter and pauper houses, and this although there is no stipulated obligation for such outlay. This same season the repair of roads used solely by the crofters of this district has cost the estate nearly £30, while the labour bill for the Strathpeffer estate alone amounts to a very large sum annually. I may here mention that, taking the three districts or properties comprising the Cromartie estate, as many as eighteen slated houses have been erected on the crofter holdings within the last three years, at the joint expense of proprietor and tenant. This, I think, affords the best evidence, not only of the ability of the tenants, but also of the desire of the proprietrix to help those who help themselves. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh was induced, from information which seemed to be supplied to him from some private source (for the men from the Heights certainly said nothing about it), to put some questions to me regarding cases of poaching on the estate. I had no recollection of the cases he referred to, but on leaving the place of meeting the procurator-fiscal reminded me of their nature. The Edinburgh Daily Review of Saturday last contains a letter (of which I enclose a copy), purporting to give the true version of these poaching cases, the writer of which I believe has no right to call himself a " crofter." I have to apologise for bringing this anonymous letter under your notice at all, but my reason for doing so is that it appears to contain the information upon which Mr Fraser-Mackintosh put his questions to me on the subject of poaching. The two young men who had been detected by the gamekeepers were reported to the procurator-fiscal of the county, that he might take steps to prosecute them. On the fiscal informing me, however, that the offence, being ' night poaching,' would be punished with imprisonment, in case of conviction,—and the men themselves having written me begging to have the prosecution departed from,—I wrote Lord Tarbat, recommending that, in the circumstances, no steps should be taken against them. His Lordship agreed to withdraw the information, and the case was departed from, the men gladly paying the expenses which had beeu incurred to the procurator-fiscal. With regard to the other case, which was that of a lad in his seventeenth year, who was caught in the act of poaching an hour after midnight, on the same occasion, his case was also reported to the procurator-fiscal, and the circumstances being similar, the prosecution against him was also stopped. It is absolutely untrue that the lad was made to labour for a month in a plantation on the estate by way of fine. I did, much to the satisfaction of his grandfather, with whom he resided, find him employment on the estate at a liberal rate (for a " schoolboy ") of 14s. per week —as the wages sheets signed by himself show. In all he was employed for thirty-four days, for which he was paid £ 3 , 19s. 4d. From a letter from the fiscal in my possession, I find that that the costs incurred to him were £4, Is. 4d., which made the proportion payable by each of the offenders £ 1 , 7s. Id. All the three were highly gratified at the time for the leniency shown them. By way of showing the whole circumstances of the cases, I enclose a copy of my letter to Lord Tarbat recommending the withdrawal of the prosecutions, and his Lordship's letter to me agreeing to this course being taken. I have only one regret in connection with this matter, and it is this, that the two misguided delegates who took some pains to assure you that they were not prompted by certain " wellknown agitators," should have been deluded into casting unfounded reflections upon the actions of proprietors and their representatives long since gone from amongst us, and making rash statements which they cannot substantiate by an atom of proof. As to the aspersion attempted to be cast upon my office assistant, Mr Fraser, let me simply say that the threats alleged to have been made by him were never made and that Mr Fraser, whose character is above reproach, enjoys the entire confidence and respect of his noble employers, and I can assure his would-be traducers that nothing they can say will shake this confidence. Allow me to add, in conclusion, that I have ascertained that at the remote period referred to, about eighty years ago, the custom which so generally prevailed all over the Highlands in those days, existed to a very limited extent in this valley, and that some crofters, whose holdings lay within or contiguous to the farms of Fodderty, Keppoch, and Inchvannie, were merely the sub-tenants of the then holders of these respective farms. This was the case in comparatively few instances ; and I may say that within the last few days, when visiting the Heights, I came across a number of crofters who told me that they occupy now the same holdings which their forefathers held for four generations; all these people expressed in strong terms their disapproval of the statements put forth in their name by the would-be delegates, and, at the same time, gave expression to their gratitude for many acts of kindness at the hands of the present proprietrix—the Duchess of Sutherland, and of her father the late Cromartie. I may here remark that Donald Macdonald only became tenant in 1877, on the death of his mother. John Rose became tenant on the death of his father, who was an excellent man in every way, and who, had he lived, would have been one of the last to have counselled the recent conduct of his son. I have to apologise for the length of this statement, but in justice to my noble constituent, and to the past and present management of the Cromartie estates, I have felt called upon to refute the unfounded charges that have been so publicly and recklessly made.
—I have the honour to remain, my Lord and Gentlemen, your obedient servant, WM. GUNN, factor for the Duchess of Sutherland, Countess of Cromartie.
—P.S. I have to request that you will do me the favour of having this statement read at the next meeting of the Commission.
W. G. Cromartie Estates Office, Strathpeffer, 11th Oct, 1883.' The following is the letter in the Edinburgh Daily Review referred to in the foregoing statement:
—' The Strathpeffer Poaching Cases.
—Sir, When Mr Gunn, factor, Strathpeffer, was asked, at Dingwall, by Mr Fraser-Mackintosh whether it was a fact that he, in his factorial capacity, on one occasion fined two men, who were brought before him for poaching, £2, 2s., and whether he fined, in the same manner, a schoolboy, who was found with a useless pistol in his possession, £1, Is., he replied that - he did not recollect doing anything of the kind. I observe, however, to-day in the Inverness Courier, that Mr Gunn says the circumstances are as follows :
—" Some years ago two young men were found at night, in the possession of guns, after deer, and trespassing on land not in their own occupation. They were taken up by the then lessee of the shooting, but they were allowed, without being brought before a court, and on payment of some small expenses incurred, to go free. There was no trial, no prosecution, and no fine imposed." The real facts of the case are these : The two men were found in a barn, taken by the gamekeepers before Mr Gunn, and fined each £1, 7s. Id. (not £2, 2s., as in Mr Fraser-Mackintosh's question). The other case is that of a schoolboy, who was found on the footpath between a neighbour's house and his own home, with a hand pistol in his possession. He was taken by the gamekeepers as a night poacher, brought before the factor, and ordered to pay a fine of £1, 7s. Id. (not £ 1 , Is. as in Mr Fraser-Mackintosh's question). The boy could not pay the fine, whereupon the factor made him work a month at a plantation then going on on the estate. A month of hard labour out on the bare hills during a cold winter is surely rather severe punishment for a schoolboy. Are things of this nature so common with Mr Gunn, that these particular cases are forgotten in the crowd ? The crofters are also anxious to know from whom Mr Gunn got his special authority to act as a judge in his own private office in matters of this kind. Mr Gunn admits that these men were brought before him, and though, according to him, no fine was imposed, still he admits that they paid certain expenses. If there was no trial, no prosecution," will Mr Gunn state how these expenses were incurred, and who became their custodier? One of the Strathpeffer delegates was prepared to give a history of these cases, also to deal generally with the question of game, before the Commissioners, but, owing to the want of time, was not heard.
—I am, etc.
CROFTER.—Heights of Strathpeffer, Oct. 11, 1883.'
The following are the letters between Mr Gunn and Lord Tarbat on this matter:—
Strathpeffer, N.B., Jan. 22, 1879. My Lord, I have not yet received any authority from your Lordship for the prosecution of the young fellows who were caught out with guns at night, on the Heights of Fodderty. I enclose a petition from them earnestly pleading that your Lordship may be pleased to forgive them. I have made further inquiry into the matter, and I am able to say that their statement is true to the effect that the deer are coming down in great numbers, and devouring their turnips. This being so, there is a very strong feeling of sympathy springing up in their behalf, which is all the more general as the young men are respectable in their way, and not hitherto known to have been guilty of anything approaching to regular poaching. Besides, it is well known that these deer do not breed on or come from your Lordship's ground, so that there was less scruple in having a shot at them. Had they been guilty of taking game on your ground, I would certainly have them prosecuted ; but, considering all the circumstances of the case, I believe it would be a mistake to have them prosecuted, more especially as the punishment following upon conviction must be imprisonment. Should you decide upon forgiving them this time, we might make it a condition that they pay all expenses, and that they forfeit their guns to Macleay. An early reply will oblige, as the fiscal will require to know.
—I remain, your Lordship's obedient servant, WILLM. GUNN.
—In abandoning the prosecutions, the condition that the guns should be forfeited was not insisted on.
Trentham, Stohe-upon-Trent, Monday, Jan.27.
—Dear Gunn, I have decided to take no more notice of the poaching affair this time, and not to prosecute, but to let the men off, on the conditions you mention in your letter of the 22nd. They must give up their guns, and pay expenses. I suppose the man who signs himself John Mathieson is from the Tulloch estate. And could you let me know the name of the third one you mention in your letter of the 11th, who was not acting in concert with the others, he is not mentioned in your last letter, yours truly, TARBAT
—I think it right to say I have allowed, as an exceptional case, this statement on the part of Mr Gunn to be read aloud on this occasion, in consequence of his inability to appear here to-day. At the same time, I must express my regret that, in consequence of his absence, I, and other members of the Commission, and especially Mr Fraser-Mackintosh, who is personally alluded to in the statement, have been deprived of an opportunity of cross-examination in the case, an opportunity which in other cases has usually been afforded.