St. Kilda is a small island located about 40 miles west from the Outer Hebrides, about 100 miles from the Scottish mainland. The last permanent occupation of the island was in 1930 when the last inhabitants were evacuated. The population had dropped to a low of only 36.
After World War I most of the young men left the island, and the population fell from 73 in 1920 to 37 in 1928. After the death of four men from influenza in 1926 there was a succession of crop failures in the 1920s. Investigations by Aberdeen University into the soil where crops had been grown have shown that there had been contamination by lead and other pollutants, caused by the use of seabird carcasses and peat ash in the manure used on the village fields. This occurred over a lengthy period of time as fertilizing methods became more intensive and may have been a factor in the crop failures and lead to the evacuation of the island in 1930.
The last straw came with the death of a young woman, Mary Gillies. Mary Gillies fell ill with appendicitis in January 1930, and was taken to the mainland for treatment where she later died. On August 29, 1930, the remaining 36 inhabitants were removed to Morvern on the Scottish mainland at their own request. Morvern is located across the Sound of Mull (Isle of Mull) in Lochaline.
The largest island is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the United Kingdom, and three other islands (Dun, Soay and Boreray) were also used for grazing and seabird hunting. The islands are administratively a part of the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar local authority area.
The origin of the name St Kilda is a matter of conjecture. The islands’ human heritage includes numerous unique architectural features from the historic and prehistoric periods, although the earliest written records of island life date from the Late Middle Ages. The medieval village on Hirta was rebuilt in the 19th century, but the influences of religious zeal, illnesses brought by increased external contacts through tourism, and the First World War all contributed to the island’s evacuation in 1930.
The video below produced by Thames TV in Great Britain shows scenes of life on St. Kilda and interviews of evacuated residents from St. Kilda. It is a wonderful look into a historic genealogical past.
This is what genealogical travel is all about. Another great video that was filmed in 1928 showing life on St. Kilda not long before the evacuation.
Both of these videos show life on the island. The inhabitants were so isolated, living more than 40 miles out to sea.
How to Get There
Visiting St. Kilda today although difficult can still be done. Unless you own an ocean going boat, you will be visiting with an organized group, since there is no regularly scheduled transportation to the island. Contacting a travel c0mpany that specializes in ocean travel to the outer islands of Great Britain is a key to a successful trip.
Visiting St. Kilda today although difficult can still be done. Unless you own an ocean going boat, you will be visiting with an organized group, since there is no regularly scheduled transportation to the island. The crossing can be rough, and is only sensible in calm weather. The National Trust maintains the island and during the summer a full time attendant resident on the island. Three options are available:
- On a National Trust (NTS) for Scotland Work Party. These are organized in the summer, and last about 2 weeks. The work is either on repairing facilities or archaeology. A cook and a work party leader travel out with the group, and various excursions are organized. These are often over subscribed, and you need to contact the NTS in the autumn for a chance of going in the following summer.
- As part of a cruise around the Western and Northern Isles of Scotland. Various weeklong cruises sometimes include St. Kilda in their itinerary if the weather is suitable. Check that the cruise ship has its own smaller boats – zodiacs are ideal – for landing at the small jetty on Hirta. Winds or swell from the east or southeast may make landing impossible. However, a non-landing trip around the islands, especially going close to Boreray and the huge sea stacks covered in Gannets, can be worth going for that alone.
- On a day trip. Day trips may be possible from Harris or North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. These will only run when the weather permits. More information can be fund at the www.seaharris.co.uk website. Day trips leaving Leverburgh on the south end of the Isle of Lewis daily at 8:00 am weather permitting. After an almost 3 hour voyage the boat arrives at St. Kilda at 11:00 am and departs at 4:45. This provides the visitor with most of the day to explore the beautiful Island of Hirta and St. Kilda. The cost for the trip is 180 British Pounds or $300.
Visiting St. Kilda is difficult but well worth the effort. Getting to St. Kilda is only half the adventure; a visitor must first get to the Western isles and the Isle of Lewis to catch the boat trip offered by SeaHarris. A ferry leaving the Isle of Skye from the town of Uig on the northwest coast will take you to the Isle of Lewis.
Contact us for more information about St. Kilda, 801-298-2264.