ABSTRACT

In August 1930 the entire inhabitants of St Kilda abandoned their island home for a new and uncertain future on the mainland. What caused them to take such draconian steps was certainly complex. The process of decline in this close-knit community had begun many years before the Fishery Protection Vessel ‘Harebell’ and the steamer ‘Dunara Castle’ completed the evacuation on the 29lh of August. By this time the population of the Island had fallen to less than forty individuals, many of who were elderly. The Islanders had always been poor and were dependent on two important factors for their survival. The first were the many seabirds colonising the dramatic cliffs around their home, which they slaughtered in their thousands for meat. The second was their benefactor, the Macleod of Macleod, who in exchange for a variety of Island produce provided seed and other essentials for life on St Kilda. The lifestyle here was so very different from almost any other part of the United Kingdom and it was not surprising that from time to time St Kilda was visited by curious folk anxious to capture the somewhat primitive scene. They brought with them welcome additional income for the community, but they were also responsible for more unfortunate consequences. The Islanders lacked immunity to infection and following such visits would often fall ill from the so-called ‘boat-cold’. They had no doctor and illness was a serious matter here, even with the excellent attention of their resident nurse, Williamina Barclay.