Second Shetland Truck System Report is a web novel completed by William Guthrie.
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14,729. Is that the bulk of the diet of a fisherman’s family?-That, and fish and potatoes.
14,730. Don’t you think that, taking the Shetlanders as a body, they are as well off with regard to diet and clothing as any similar cla.s.s in Scotland?-I think the peasantry in the country are so, on the whole. The lower orders in Lerwick differ considerably from those in the country districts; there are more employments open to them. I think the people in the country are better fed, on the whole, than those in Lerwick. They enjoy more fresh air, and are a better-off cla.s.s of people, on the whole, than the lower orders here.
14,731. Has any special matter come within your observation that you think of mentioning with regard to the system of barter in other trades than hosiery?-Nothing very special. I think the system of the men being compelled to fish to the landlords or tacksmen on certain estates is a bad system, and should be abolished. One of the many evils resulting from it is that very often men don’t know whether they have money or are in debt.
They may think they have means, and at settling time they may discover they have nothing.
14,732. Would that not happen all the same if the creditor were a merchant who had no connection with the land?-It might, it arises from the system of long credits.
14,733. Have you known cases in which a man was under a false impression as to the balance at his banker’s, as one may say?-I have. The other day a man in the country sent for me to visit his wife professionally; and on leaving he told me he had not the means in the house, but that he had sufficient to pay me, and good deal more, at the merchant’s. I afterwards saw the merchant with whom he dealt, and he told me something similar. He also told me to send the man’s account to him, which I did; but a few weeks afterwards the merchant wrote me that he had been mistaken,- that he found, instead of the man having means in his hands, that he was in debt, and he had had to advance him his rent, and that I could not get my account paid in the meantime; but that he would do his best to get it for me at a future time.
14,734. Is it a common thing to have accounts paid in that way through the merchant?-Very common.
14,735. The merchant, in short, appears in many cases to transact the whole of a man’s business affairs?-Yes; he appears to pay his rent very often, and to transact other business for him.
14,736. He pays accounts for him of all sorts?-Yes.
14,737. So that the man may know nothing at all of his money affairs?-He may know little or nothing.
14,738. Do you speak of that as being a general thing within your own knowledge?-Yes.
14,739. Have you formed any opinion as to the effect of that system of dependence upon the merchant upon the character of the people generally?-Yes; they are deficient in that st.u.r.dy independence, if I may so express it, which characterizes the peasantry throughout the rest of Scotland. The system fosters a dependent, time-serving, deceitful disposition, and it cripples enterprise.
14,740. Don’t you find at the same time that the people are generally very well able to take care of themselves in any ordinary transaction? They have intelligence sufficient?-Yes; they are sharp enough. The Shetland peasantry possess very considerable intelligence; but there is in them a want of proper independence.
14,741. Do you mean that the position in which they are develops a kind of cunning rather than acuteness or cleverness?-Yes; it fosters a sort of low cunning. The system having been continued, one might almost say, for centuries has fostered that element in their character.
14,742. That you represent as being the princ.i.p.al defect in the Shetland character?-It is one of the princ.i.p.al defects.
14,743. In other respects, do you not think they are a very superior cla.s.s to the ordinary run of peasantry in Scotland?-They are careful and intelligent, and they are [Page 371] pretty well-bred.
They have a good deal of the , more so than the most of peasants but there is that want of proper independence amongst them which I have mentioned, and they are of a very conservative disposition. I mean by that, that there is a want of desire to better themselves; for instance, to improve their houses, or to produce better crops, or to educate their families. There is a want of proper ambition among them; they are content to remain very much as they are.
14,744. Do you mean to represent that as being the effect of the system of barter which prevails?-I think it is partly the result of the system of barter, and partly of the short leases which are given of the land, and the want of any encouragement to improve their land and houses.
14,745. As a rule, the houses in Shetland are still in a very defective condition?-Very much so indeed. As far as we can see, they are in the same condition as they have been for centuries.
14,746. Are there many districts in the country where the houses still consist of a single room and have no chimney?-There are a good many instances in which they want chimneys, but they have generally two apartments-a but and a ben end, as it is called.
14,747. In such houses how is an exit furnished for the smoke?- Just through holes in the roof called ‘lums;’ but I am glad to observe a disposition to correct that in some districts. In many houses lately I have noticed that they have built wooden chimneys, and these improve the houses very much.
14,748. That has been so in Unst; but perhaps your professional duties don’t take you so far?-I have not been in Unst for some years.
14,749. But in the course of your professional visits you have to travel over the whole extent of the mainland?-Yes, over the most of it.
14,750. Formerly, I understand, glazed windows were very rare in Shetland?-Very rare.
14,751. Has there been a change in that respect in recent years?- Yes, a very considerable change; but in some of the more primitive districts glazed windows do not exist yet.
14,752. In that case, is the light only admitted by the door?-Only by the door, and the lum or hole in the roof.
14,753. Are there many houses of that description in Shetland still?-A good many. I am afraid I could not say accurately how many.
14,754. Can you say whether these houses are inhabited by people who are pretty well-to-do as peasants?-Yes; I believe many of them are pretty well-to-do. They have bits of ground, and good earnings from their fishing, and are free of debt; and probably many of them have some means, although that is not known. It is one peculiarity of their character, that they don’t like it to be known when they have money. I believe many of the men have considerable means in the banks, but they conceal it.
14,755. Have you had occasion to observe that yourself?-I don’t know that I have had direct occasion to observe it; but I have heard it, and I believe it to be the fact.
14,756. Is it the current belief among those with whom you converse, that there are many of the fishermen who have means of their own, which they conceal from other people?-Yes.
14,757. What would you say was the character of the Shetland people with regard to sobriety?-I should say that, on the whole, they are very sober and steady; and I may give an ill.u.s.tration of that. It is well known that the Shetlanders as seamen are very highly prized at ports in the south, such as Liverpool and Shields; and very often a shipmaster, when desiring a crew, will put into the advertis.e.m.e.nt ‘Shetland men preferred.’ I believe the reason for that preference is not so much that the Shetlanders are better seamen, although they are as good if not better than others, but because they are more steady and more to be depended upon. For instance, I have heard of a shipmaster who, if he had occasion to land at Quebec or some port in America, and had to take a boat’s crew on sh.o.r.e with him to bring him back again at night, he would select the Shetland men in his crew for that purpose if there were any, as he was more sure of having them in waiting for him at the time he wanted. That is not the result of personal observation, but it is what I have heard on good authority. I may state further, as a proof of their sobriety, that I have had occasion to examine it very large number of Shetland seamen in my capacity as Admiralty surgeon and agent. I have held that office for five and a half years, and during that time I have examined probably between 500 and 600 men, and I almost never yet found any traces amongst them of venereal disease, which is it very common thing amongst seamen.
That is a proof of the steady habits of the Shetland men.
14,758. I understand there are very few public-houses in Shetland?-Very few. I think there is only one public-house in the mainland of Shetland outside of Lerwick, but there are several places holding grocers’ licences where the men can buy liquor.
14,759. Is there anything further you wish to say?-I don’t know that there is anything further, except that I may state it as my opinion, that it would be better, both for merchants and their customers, if the barter system were abolished and all transactions were carried on in cash. I believe the system of long credits is very injurious to all the parties concerned in it.
14,760. Do you think habits of independence would be fostered among the Shetland people if they received their wages or other payments in cash?-Yes; habits of independence and enterprise would be fostered, and I believe the merchants would be able to make better use of their money by turning over their capital more frequently.
Lerwick, January 29, 1872, PETER MOODIE, examined.
14,761. Are you it seaman and fisherman in Lerwick?-I am.
14,762. Have you been for a number of years at the sealing and whaling?-I have been at it since 1855, exclusive of two years when I was south.
14,763. Did you always ship from Lerwick?-Always.
14,764. From what agent?-I have been from them all. The first year I shipped was from Hay & Co., the next from Mr. Leask; and I have been from Hay & Co., Mr. Leask, and Mr. George Reid Tait ever since.
14,765. Did you get your outfit from Hay & Co. in 1855?-I did.
I was then a boy, and I was glad to get it from them, because I had no person to give it to me except the agent.
14,766. Is it usual for green hands to get their outfit from the agent who employs them?-Yes. I don’t think they would get it from any one else.
14,767. Did you pay off your outfit in the first year?-I did, and I had something to get.
14,768. Have you always had something to get ever since?-No, not every year. One year our ship had to come home because the master had fallen from the mast-head, and I was not clear with the agent upon voyage; but I shipped again to Davis Straits, and I did clear it off before the end of the season.
14,769. Do you always get a large quant.i.ty of supplies from the agent you ship with?-If I want it, I do, but if I like, I can get my first month’s advance and my half-pay ticket; only, I find that the agents can supply me with everything I wish, and I have not taken a halfpay ticket except in one year, and I sold it as soon as I got it.
I found, however, that I could get my goods as cheap from the agents as from the grocer’s shop; and besides, I found that when I took my ticket to a grocer he did not like it. But the agents will allow you to take whatever you want. I have seen me go into an agent’s shop in Lerwick about Christmas, and he would advance me 10s. or 15s. or 1 if I wanted it, and I paid him up for it, perhaps in the course of the [Page 372] next year; whereas I don’t think many of the grocers would have advanced me one penny.
14,770. Don’t you think your wife could have got her goods cheaper if she had had the money to pay for them?-No. I have never found that I could get them any cheaper. I have had groceries from a grocer’s shop, and I have had the same things from agents, and I have found them to be all the same price.
14,771. It was the practice some years settle your accounts at the agent’s shop, just in the same way that a fisherman settles with his curer at the end of the season?-Yes, we did that regularly.
14,772. For some years back, however, you have had your wages paid to you at the Custom House?-Yes.
14,773. Have you had them paid without any deduction except your advance?-Yes, except that and the ship’s bill. If I had taken any goods from the agent before I went out, of course I got my money, and I could go and pay him when I wanted. He did not take it from me at the Custom House.
14,774. Did the agent ever seek to deduct the amount of his account at the Custom House?-Never from me. I cannot speak for anybody but myself.
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