Monday, 10 October 2011

St Kilda - 1877

Aberdeen Weekly, 19 May 1877



Yesterday afternoon HM gunboat Flirt arrived in Aberdeen from Stornoway. She left Greenock on Tuesday 8 May for St Kilda, with provisions and seeds for the inhabitants. The island of St Kilda consists of three rocks, only one of which, however, is inhabited. It belongs to Macleod of Macleod. It is situated in the Atlantic 36 miles from the nearest island of the Hebrides - the Monach - and 70 miles from the mainland.

As we have reported from time to time, great privation existed on the island, and owing to the publicity given to the state of matters by the press, the Government took the matter up, and the result was the despatching of the Flirt with food. The Flirt arrived on the following Saturday night, and the captain got out the provisions, put them in the ship's boats for transference to the boats belonging to the islanders - the Flirt's boats being unable to reach the shore owing to the peculiar construction of the coast. It being Saturday night, however, the islanders refused to land them for fear of encroaching on the Sabbath. The anchorage at St Kilda being unsafe, Captain O'Rorke was very anxious to get the supplies ashore without unnecessary delay. He therefore went ashore and remonstrated with them, but acting on the instructions of the Free Church minister the islanders refused to land the goods. His remonstrances were unavailing and he was reluctantly obliged to reship the goods and remain till Monday. All the provisions were landed on Monday morning, between two o'clock and seven o'clock, and the vessel sailed for Stornoway at eight o'clock.

Staff-surgeon Scott went ashore and visited the sick, and sent all the medicines that were likely to be of any use on shore. There were no serious cases, the chief troubles being rheumatism and dyspepsia - the latter due to the nature of the food. The most of the inhabitants appeared healthy and well fed. The families live in 18 one-storey cottages, built of stone and roofed with zinc. The total number is 75 individuals. The officers of the Flirt attended the church on Sunday, the congregation of which numbered 40 women and 20 men. The service was conducted by the Rev Mr Mackay, who preached in Gaelic. The singing was of a most unusual description, and resembled the wailing of a pibroch. The men were dressed like Aberdeen fishermen. The women wore a Rob Roy tartan plaid folded over their heads, blue serge short petticoats reaching to their ankles. white stockings, and no shoes. The few that had shoes took them off immediately on entering the church, and put them on again when they retired.

Each house has about an acre of ground attached to it, in which are sown corn  seed, potatoes &c. The occupation to which the inhabitants are most devoted is the catching of the fulma, a species of seagull. The capture of this bird is attended with great difficulty. The men are lowered down steep cliffs by means of ropes, and catch the birds in their nests. The egg of the fulma is larger than a turkey's. The flesh is eaten by the natives, and the oil and feathers are transported to Glasgow principally. There are about 600 sheep on the island, the pasture being very good. The turf is also used for fuel. It is collected, heaped up and covered over with stones until it dries. The inhabitants were very thankful for the stores brought to them by the Flirt. None of them speak English, with the exception of one woman - a Mrs Macdonald, from Skye - and she acted as interpreter to Dr Scott in his visits to the sick. Before the arrival of the Flirt, Macleod had sent a quantity of provisions, but the supply of weed was short. The islanders said they could make whisky from their barley, but that industry is discouraged by the clergyman.

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