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

85th Anniversary: The Evacuation of St Kilda 1930

In 1930 the 36 islanders from St Kilda where evacuated to the mainland by their own request. The gradual loss of self-sufficiency had begun from the mid-19th century when there was increasing contact with the outside world. A steam yacht - the Vulcan - visited St Kilda in 1838. From 1877 the SS Dunara Castle began regular summer cruises to St Kilda, and was soon joined by others such as the SS Hebrides.

John Ross, schoolmaster, noted in 1889 that islanders spent time producing goods to sell to tourists- sheepskins, tweeds, knitted gloves, stockings and scarves, eggs and ornithological items

Gradually the St Kildans began to rely on imports of food, fuel and building materials and furnishing for their homes. In 1852, 36 people emigrated to Australia, and the population decline began (many of the emigrants died en-route, but a few settled in Melbourne). The islanders felt increasingly isolated from the outside world and disliked particularly the lack of regular communications.

In 1876, during a period of food shortage, the first St Kilda mailboat was sent out as a distress signal. A letter was sealed in a wooden container with a sheep's bladder acting as a float. Subsequently, many of these mailboats were consigned to the sea, and most reached shore in Scotland or Scandinavia carried by the prevailing currents.

In 1906 when Alice MacLachlan and her husband Peter arrived on the island they found that while it was well-connected and economically successful with a booming tourist trade and a buoyant market for the island’s tweed industry the islanders were increasingly dependent on Whalers and fishing fleets working in St Kildan waters bringing supplies to the island.

Alice mentions in her diary on 30 August

“We were aroused at midnight by the welcome whistle of the “Hebrides”. I was so excited I could hardly sleep for the remainder of the night. The first syrens sounded to the St. Kildians at 5.15 a.m. & we jumped out of bed.”

Later in the same entry she mentions how

“We didn’t feel a bit lonely. We shall feel worse, when the whalers stop.”

In 1912 there were acute food shortages and in 1913 an outbreak of influenza. The war of 1914-18 brought a naval detachment to Hirta and regular deliveries of mail and food from naval supply vessels. When these services were withdrawn at end of war feelings of isolation increased. There was more emigration of able-bodied young islanders and a breakdown of the island economy. In 1930 the remaining 36 islanders requested evacuation to the mainland.

Many of the islanders who were evacuated in 1930 lived on the island during the duration of Alice and Peter MacLachlans stay from 1906 – 1909. Alice frequently mentions them by name in her diaries and talks about their lives on the island.

View a list of those evacuated from the island in 1930