1930 - Evacuation of St Kilda

St Kilda

Life on the little Atlantic island of St Kilda was always tough for its inhabitants. As the new luxuries of 20th-century life improved conditions on the mainland of Scotland, little improvement seemed to trickle out to their shores. Conditions of life remained basic and worse than basic. The hard winter of 1929 led to the St Kildans needing to seek aid yet again from the mainland. Finally they decided they had had enough. The islanders petitioned for evacuation. The final destination of the 36 islanders was to be Morvern in Argyll. The story excited a great deal of coverage. This is how The Times reported it.



The last phase in the removal of the colony from St Kilda will take place to-morrow, when the Admiralty sloop Harebell will take off the remaining population to Oban, preparatory to their settlement in Morven (Argyll). The evacuation affects some 36 natives, together with the island nurse and the missionary and his small family. Owing to heavy seas the Glasgow vessel Dunara Castle had to run for shelter into a sea loch on the west coast of Skye, with the result that she was late in arriving yesterday at St Kilda to deliver the last mail-bag for the natives, and take off such of the sheep stock as remained in the islands after the ship's previous call a couple of weeks ago. In addition, the Dunara Castle loaded all the islanders' cattle - 10 animals in all - and the bulky possessions of the inhabitants, who are being conveyed from Oban to their new surroundings.

During the afternoon and evening some hundreds of sheep were placed in small boats and towed out to the Dunara Castle as she lay at anchor in the village bay. Owing to difficulty in working with the sheep, which are semi-wild, operations had to be suspended about midnight and the natives began to transport their belongings by the light from a couple of lanterns. The goods consisted mainly of wooden kists containing clothes and personal effects, spinning wheels, querns, and pieces of furniture, many of which have been bought by tourists who visited the island in the SS Hebrides some days ago.

The St Kildans began their work early this morning and by 9am had the remainder of the sheep aboard. The six cows on the island had to swim out from the jetty, dragged by a rope fastened to the stern of a small boat.


The last mail dispatched to St Kilda from Greenock was one of the smallest ever carried. The final outgoing dispatch, however, was by far the heaviest that ever left St Kilda. A number of passengers went ashore from the Dunara Castle and crowded round the little village post-office in their anxiety to procure any remaining relics of the island. They bought large supplies of stamps, picture postcards showing local scenes, and many pieces of woollen goods manufactured by St Kilda women from the fleeces of the famous St Kilda sheep.

The island postmaster, Mr Neil Ferguson, was engaged all day in separating and trans-shipping the community's sheep, but his duties were undertaken by Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, a young Scots writer on the Western Isles, who had been on St Kilda for some days and had greatly helped the inhabitants in making preparations for their departure. Mr MacGregor stamped for the last time several hundreds of cards and letters addressed to every part of the world. The post office business did not finish until 2am when he stamped a parcel that a native had almost left behind on the island. The removal of the St Kildans to the mainland tomorrow will mark the end of a struggle against Nature that has been going on for centuries and that in the last few years had become more acute owing to the decline in the number of able-bodied men who normally would man the boats and attend to fishing and turf-cutting. From August until May the community was entirely cut off from civilization except when a storm-bound trawler sought shelter in the bay in front of the only village on the island and brought the natives the mails, that often had accumulated for months and additional provisions. The trawler men have been noted for the consideration they showed to the St Kildans. During the winter months the island's man-power had dropped so low in recent years that for three years the natives have not ventured near the adjoining island of Boreray, with the result that the sheep there are absolutely wild, and more than 200 have been left on the island.

To the very last night the villagers have held family worship in their respective homes, reading and praying and singing the Gaelic psalms in the traditional manner which has endured for centuries.

The Times, 29 August 1930.

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