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19 Mar 2018

The St Kilda Diaries: 15 to 31 March 1909

A black and white photo of fulmar hunt on St Kilda.
A Fulmar hunt taking place on St Kilda; photographed by R Milne in 1907.
Alice was married to Peter MacLachlan who was the Minister on the archipelago of St Kilda - the remotest part of the British Isles, 66 kilometres west of Benbecula in Scotland's Outer Hebrides - between August 1906 and May 1909.

This week read about Alice’s time on St Kilda during the last two weeks of March in 1909.  This includes a description of a tragic event in the recent history of St Kilda that may be upsetting to some readers.

New extracts from the diaries will be released every two weeks until the middle of May when Alice left St Kilda. All photographs in this article were taken from the Milne Album; R Milne visited St Kilda in 1907.

Mond. 15th 

Eight boats in loch all yesterday.  Some have gone out today.  Bannerdale tried.  Out in morning. 

Tues. 16th

Nothing of note.  Better day.  Bad with Pxxxx.

Wednes. 17th Mch.

Fighting against illness all day, & in bed most of day, & on sofa.  William cut Dunie’s hair tonight. 

Thurs. 18th Mch.

Very ill all night.  Poulticed back & was simply awful.  Kate & Dunie very much put about.  Did not rise for a good bit.  Walckner in district still. 

Frid. 19th Mch.

Still in bed & still greatly pained.  Can neither rise, sit, lie or anything comfortably.

Satur. 20th Mch. 

Another day in bed, & not much better.  Walckner in to dinner and ceilidh (& tea).  So kind.  Sent me in Castor oil and a large piece of meat, and a loaf, such a big one.

Sund. 21st Mar.

Lovely day.  The Bannerdale in and the men were in church.  Capt. W. had dinner with dunie & so kind.  Great visitation today from all & sundry.

Mond. March 22nd

Glorious day.  I am still in bed.  Think of getting up later on in day.  Just like summer and so warm.  Two boats left about 10 or a little after for Borreray to see about sheep etc. & Kate told me when she came to tidy my room that five men (Donald MacDonald, John Gillies, Neil McKinnon, Norman McQuien & his brother John) went to the Dùn in William’s boat.  Kate had gone out of the room & my window was left wide open as the day was so lovely.  All at once I heard the most terrible cries from the Dùn & called to Kate who rat out, and in turn gave the alarm up that something had happened at the Dùn.  Dunie came from school in time to help old Angus, Finlay Mor & Finlay McQuien, & in a very short time they got over to the scene of whatever had happened.  The Suspense at home was awful; the women were all down & the anguished weeping and wailing I cannot describe.  However the boat came, & our worst fears were realised; worse than we ever imagined.  Donald McDonald, Norman & John McQuien were all drowned.  Neil McKinnon & John Gillies were rescued in a very exhausted condition.  Donald McDonald’s body was found floating in the water, but poor Norman & John had gone down gripping each other.  The scenes are indescribable.  Dunie up twice.  A beacon was lighted at Berenahake to make the men come home as it seems they purposed staying to kill gannets.  Poor Donald òg & Ewan McDonald.

A black and white photo of the landing stage at St Kilda.
The landing stage on Hirta, St Kilda; photographed by R Milne in 1907

Tuesd. Mch. 23rd

Little better.  Rose during morning.  Dunie up, also Kate.  I brought in the five who were making Don. McDonald’s coffin to tea, dinner.  Gave Neil McKinnon coffee also; he will take some time to get right.  This is an awful place.

Wednes. Mch. 24th

Donald McDonald was buried today.  Most terribly sad.

Thurs. Mch. 25 

Great many visitors myself these days as I’m not at all well, though better.  No boats. 

Frid. Mch. 26th  

This week is like a month.  The bodies have not been recovered.  Dunie and Kate up.  I was out a wee bit in the sun today, with my big coat on.

Satur. Mch. 27th

Out a good while today.  Rachel Ferguson very low today.  People as sad as ever.

Sunday Mch. 28th

My birthday.  Up most of day.  Capt. Walckner arrived during day & was terribly shocked at news.  Went & trawled for the bodies but no signs.  Brought me my medicine & also a box of ointment from himself.  He had the poorest trip he ever made, only £47.  He is wanted to go to Iceland.  Services in church terribly pathetic today.  I was not allowed out.

Mon. Mch. 29th

Got our letters today.  Not a big mail though.  Heard from Bab, Mother, Annie Beauty & papers.  Got my cakes & things I sent for from Aberdeen.  Kate washed bedroom today.  Dunie up village.  Feeling very seedy today.  Neil McDonald to dinner.  Nice night at fireside.  Writing letters & reading.  People a wee bit braver today.  Poor things.  It is awfully sad especially for Beau Toromich.  Hens doing fairly well.  I set a hen I forgot to say a week ago on Saturday March the 20th.  Very stormy day today & yesterday.  Not out.  Dunie got a letter from the Factor & his father, thanking him for letters of sympathy on Miss McKenzie’s death.  The young factor mentions that Miss Kemble is coming for a fortnight to study the birds.

Tues. Mch. 30

Very stormy day still.  People about same.  Dunie up.

Wednes. Mch. 31st

Storm of E. wind still continues.  Kate up village.  I am feeling very well these days.  My complaint is going back I’m thankful to say.  The ointment Capt. W. sent is doing me good.  Sitting room well cleaned today.  Don. Ferguson & Finlay Gillies to supper & very kind.