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

Visitors to St Kilda: Discover who travelled to the islands on the edge of the world (1990 – 1900)

Alice MacLachlan’s diaries had a break through July 2016 - as she leaves St Kilda for a few weeks in the summer of 1907 - in place of the diaries we looked at visitors to St Kilda in the decades after the MacLachlans were on the island through some of the Trust’s own archives and deposits of archival material to the National Trust for Scotland over the years.

1990's, 80's & 70's

Going back in time we looked at visitors to the islands in the 1990s, 1980s and 1970s. This included records and photos of NTS work parties.

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1990s, 1980s and 1970s: Records and photos of NTS work parties; NTS promotional material; Visit the Islands on the Edge of the World - about working holidays on St. Kilda.

 

This entry describes one of the days Margaret spent on St Kilda. Her executrix, Margaret Connelly very kindly arranged for Mrs Mitchell’s journal and photos to be sent to the Trust according to her wishes.

These images of a St Kilda Work Party from 1983 were donated to the NTS by Donald Helm. Donald was a great supporter of the NTS and was a volunteer in the Trust’s archives for many years

 

 

1950's & 60's

We looked at visitors in the 1960s and 1950s,focusing upon Operation Hardrock, the Soay Sheep project and various school visits after the Trust acquired St Kilda in 1957.

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The National Trust for Scotland accepted the bequest of the islands of St Kilda in 1956 from the 5th Marquis of Bute, officially taking over St Kilda in 1957. The islands were to be managed jointly by the NTS and the Nature Conservancy Council, whose representatives would assist with the management of St Kilda’s unique natural heritage. There was also an agreement with the Air Ministry that they would set up a radar installation and base on Hirta. Alongside later work party visits and expeditions by the St Kilda Club, in 1958, the NTS also facilitated the first school groups to visit to St Kilda.

Operation Hardrock
The exercise to establish the radar installation in 1957 became known as Operation Hardrock. The main objectives for the Air Ministry were to establish a beachhead area and temporary camp, make roads to the permanent area and technical sites and build the technical sites on top of Mullach Mor and Mullach Sgar. The images below were sent to the Trust in 2016 by a Mr Willie Wilson who recorded his involvement in Operation Hardrock:


"I was sent to St Kilda to fix the clutch on the tractor. Sailed from Cairryan - 24 hour trip. Fumes from the engine really bad."


Our thanks go to Mr Wilson and others who have donated images and information concerning Operation Hardrock, through the St Kilda Club.

In August and September 1958, the NTS facilitated a Joint Schools Expedition involving pupils from a number of schools in England and Scotland. Their main aims were to help with the clearing of the village houses, the post office and the burial ground.

School Expedition in 1958
One of the schoolboys who took part in this exciting venture was Eddie Roberts, who was a pupil at Merchant Taylor’s School.

This is an extract from his journal detailing his visit to St Kilda in August 1958:

Thankfully a large evening meal had been prepared. After a swill and change most of us strolled to the church for Major Riach’s talk. He is a marvellous chap and entertained us with his slides of America and answered all our questions. Cocoa and biscuits were provided. But the surprise highlight was when two St Kilda Field Mice sneaked along a skirting board! Like the local wren, they are reputed to be bigger than their mainland cousins, but how can you tell unless both are side by side?

Wednesday 13th August After breakfast, worked on clearing the houses again with an event bigger bonfire, I’m puzzled why the timber isn’t stacked or nabbed by the Task Force. It was another hard morning’s work. Alex was pleased with the progress, but it all seems random and cosmetic to me, yet so was the ‘tidying’ I had done in the cemetery since the nettle will return; but it made ‘Trog’ my St Kilda wren friend very happy, and will aid the plotting of the random grave marker-stones. Hopefully the flat iris I left will flourish. After lunch the weather improved considerably so went over to Gleann Mor. Though it faces north it is a much greener and gentler valley. Bill, John, Dick and I listened to Alex’s explanation of a clustered settlement of seemly pre-historic stone beehive houses close to the stream and a spring. The largest was fancifully named the Amazon House by Martin Martin in 1697. It certainly wasn’t a house but a crawl-in, flagged floor, turf-topped earthy igloo just about big enough for a couple of people to curl up in if you hadn’t cracked your skill on the stone lintel like me. Our gang’s den in 1948 built with Blitz bomb waste was bigger. Were they emergency shelters for ship-wrecked Vikings, or an earlier Iron Age structure, or by a religious hermit, or was it for survivors of a doomed voyage ruled by a tough female whose husband had droned; was he the mysterious Kilda or misspelt Hilda?

Also shown is a postcard sent in August 1958 by a ‘JW’, possibly a member of NTS staff, who was on the August 1958 expedition. This postcard was sent to Jamie Stormonth-Darling, the Trust Secretary, describing the success of the trip to that point.

Soay Sheep Project
From the late 1950s to the mid-1960s there were a number of expeditions by representatives from the Nature Conservancy Council and others, under the leadership of John Morton Boyd, who began the investigations of the remarkable Soay sheep.

One of the members of the party, Dr Graham Gunn, donated some slides and other material relating to these expeditions. The following image shows the setting up of the tents in a seemingly precarious position.

 

 

1940's & 1930's

We looked at those who went to St Kilda in the 1940s and 1930s which includes visitors going to St Kilda after the evacuation of the islands and those who wrote to the owner of St Kilda at the time, the Earl of Dumfries, requesting a visit for the purposes of bird watching.

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On 29th August 1930, the last inhabitants of St Kilda were evacuated from the islands. Among those assisting with the evacuation were the crew of the ship HMS Harebell. They took the remainder of the islanders’ furniture and effects, as well as the islanders themselves to Lochaline and Oban.

We are indebted to Jim Powell of Newton Abbot in Devon, who has allowed us to reproduce a couple of images from his collection of St Kilda photographs. His father was the captain of the Harebell and so these images are a unique insight into the evacuation.

In September of 1931, MacLeod of MacLeod sold St Kilda to the Earl of Dumfries, later to become the 5th Marquis of Bute. Within the Trust’s St Kilda archive collection are a series of letters to and from Lord Dumfries mainly relating to enquiries about visits to the islands. This letter is from the secretary of the Ornithological Society at Reading University about a potential visit to St. Kilda by some of their students in 1946.

Even after the islands were evacuated there were still tours being offered to the Western Isles including St Kilda, by McCallum, Orme and Co who owned the Hebrides and Dunara Castle steam ships. These handbills are advertising circular tours in 1934 and 1937.

On one of these trips was an Elizabeth Ferguson who went to St Kilda in July 1931, almost exactly a year after the evacuation. Elizabeth kept this typescript journal with photos of her visit which was kindly donated to the Trust by her niece Dr Elizabeth Riddell.

Here in this extract Elizabeth describes the schoolhouse and the church:

Sleep with their fathers and forefathers.

“The ghosts will keep the island, and keep the island free, Until the western pillars Will crumble in the sea”

I am interested in ancient burying places and have seen many in Iona, Islay &c but I will never forget St. Kilda.

Leaving the cemetery and making our way back we meet Mr. Cleland who has come ashore. He is quite at home here and takes us through the Schoolhouse and Church. The little Schoolhouse was interesting with its rather original looking maps and the alphabet hanging on the wall also a globe, but what really amused me was that here on this lonely and evacuated island – on the edge of the world – was a picture of Pola Negri the film star. I wonder I f she would be interested if she knew her picture was one of the remaining furnishings of that little school, The church or Mission house is just in the next room, but it was only it associations that were interesting. Mr. Ferguson gave Nan two books from the Library and put the St. Kilda stamp on them.

I have taken several photographs and several other people are doing the same thing but we could not have got a much worse day for it and I don’t see how the results can be much good.

I have read a lot about St. Kilda and hoped to see some of the wonderful cliffs and bird life here, but I believe they are all much too far away to see in the short time at our disposal. The right place to see these...