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Evacuation

On 29 August 1930, the 36 islanders from St Kilda were evacuated to the mainland at their own request.

The gradual loss of self-sufficiency had started in the mid-19th century when there was increasing contact with the outside world. From 1877 the SS Dunara Castle began regular summer cruises to St Kilda, and was soon joined by others such as the SS Hebrides. Whalers and fishing fleets also worked in St Kildan waters and brought supplies to the islanders.

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

Gradually the St Kildans began to rely more 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. 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 1912 there were acute food shortages and in 1913 an outbreak of influenza. The First World War brought a naval detachment to Hirta and regular deliveries of mail and food from naval supply vessels. When these services were withdrawn at the end of the war feelings of isolation increased. There was more emigration of able-bodied young islanders and a breakdown of the island economy, eventually leading to the evacuation of the remaining islanders.

Archive photography of the villagers on Hirta, St Kilda