St Kilda - Some History

St Kilda and the surrounding islands are now owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and is one of Scotland's World Heritage Sites.

This photo was taken when we were almost at the top of Conachair (430 m, 1411 ft). The village houses can be seen in a line, and close to the sea.

Towards the top-left of the photo, you can see the MOD (Ministry of Defence) buildings. 

It would appear that people have lived on St Kilda for thousands of years. But little is known of life here before the 17th century. At one stage during the 18th century, the population had decreased by so much because of deaths from smallpox that other islanders from Harris were brought there to live. Then, in the middle of the 19th century, in 1851, thirty-six of their men emigrated to Australia.

That was a huge loss to the island, and St Kilda never really regained a healthy population after that.

The row of derelict homes. Most of the houses would have been thatched, though around 1862 some of the homes were given zinc roofs.

Until the 19th century, the people of St Kilda had very little contact with the outside world. The factor, or his representative, would arrive once a year to collect the islanders' rent - normally paid in wool, seabird eggs or such like. A chaplain would make the journey with the factor, and he would perform marriages and baptisms.

These goods would have been stored in a cleitean like the one below, ready for the factor's annual trip.

The gannets hunted on Stac Lee would have been stored here too. Along with this, the St Kildans' diet consisted of some potatoes and barley that they were able to grow, some sheep milk and cheese, and gannet and fulmar eggs. Amazingly, despite being surrounded by sea, they seldom fished. The seas were simply so rough that fishing was just not a reliable option for them.

This reminds me a little of, 'Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink'.

The church, which is the best preserved building on the island, was built in the 1800s, primarily through funds raised by The Apostle of the North. The schoolroom (on the right of the building in the photo) was built as an annexe to it.

You may have heard of The Apostle of the North. Rev John MacDonald visited St Kilda four times in all, preaching the Gospel to the people - most of whom lived with some knowledge of Christianity, but whose hopes tended to be placed in outward signs like baptism. The seed sown by Dr MacDonald saw considerable fruit.

I am wondering whether this cloth piece with the embroidered cross would really have been here.

To my Scottish Presbyterian mind, it seems unlikely. But if anyone knows differently, please let me know.

I love this - a map of the world on the classroom wall.

Islanders tend, I reckon, to be much more outward looking than those who live inland, and especially those who live in large towns or cities. Feel free to disagree with this observation, by the way! But it seems that way to me. How often the St Kildans must have traced the sea-path from St Kilda to Australia on this map. Had those who emigrated from St Kilda gone to Canada, it wouldn't have seemed so far. But Australia...? That really was about as far as they could have gone.

Many mothers' hearts must have been almost broken.

Eventually, in 1930, the last inhabitants of St Kilda left the island for good and settled in other parts of Scotland. They had had more contact with the outside world in the decades before this, and knowing there were other - more comfortable - ways of life made them keen to leave.   

And so, St Kilda now lies deserted of true St Kildans. Tourists visit in great numbers, and some wildlife - like the birds - thrive. The wild sheep have mixed fortunes, but surely the history of these hardy people will never be forgotten.


  1. Great posts on St Kilda. I've always thought that it sounds fascinating so has been good to find out more.

  2. I really find this interesting and they must have been such a hardy people to survive like that. I think of the storms coming in off the sea. I love seeing the pictures and wondering just what it was like.

  3. What an amazing place, and quite inspirational in terms of remembering how easy we all have it. Thanks so much (and love the new look of your blog!)

  4. Amazing history. How I would love to take my family back to explore our ancient homeland. Thanks for the glimpse into the past.


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