St Kilda Diaries: The Diary of Alice Maclachlan (1906 - 1909)

 Life on St Kilda

The St Kilda that Peter and Alice MacLachlan found on their arrival in August 1906 was one that was increasingly vibrant, well-connected, and economically successful. The turn of the 20th century saw a booming tourist trade and a buoyant market for the island’s tweed industry. The early 1900s also saw the government being able to provide more services for the islanders, and the frequent presence of English fishing fleets meant the islanders were better connected to the wider world than ever before. The long-established families living on the island – the McKinnons, the Gillies, the MacDonalds, the McQueen, the Fergusons etc. were, like people all across Britain in the Edwardian period, navigating their way through a fast-changing world.

Activities described by the schoolteacher John Ross in his journal from twenty years previous when he visited the island, were still continuing. Fowling among the rocks and stacs enabled fulmars, puffins and gannets to be harvested for their meat, feathers and oil and divided up among the inhabitants; sheep were caught and their wool stored in cleits; spinning and carding of the wool was a long-established tradition for islanders both men and women; attendance at church services was compulsory; whaling boats were occasionally sighted and visits by ships bringing tourists to exchange goods with the St Kildans were regular occurrences and brought great excitement to the islanders.

Gaelic was the main language although Alice, originally from Haddington in East Lothian, was an English –speaker. She and Peter taught various lessons to the schoolchildren including English, music and history as well as sewing to the younger girls.

Island life, as outlined by Alice in the three volumes of her diaries covering 1906 through to 1909, is a vivid description of many of the activities mentioned above as well as detailing some of the extraordinary and often tragic events which occurred during their time on Hirta.

These diaries, presented and transcribed as they have been on our website - unedited and as they were written at the time - are a remarkable documentary recording of life on St Kilda and valuable primary evidence of the islands in the years prior to evacuation.

If you would like to know more about the MacLachlan diaries please contact the NTS Archivist, Ian Riches at iriches@nts.org.uk.