8 APRIL 1876, Page 10


VETE wonder if Mr. Donald Cameron, of Lochiel, Groom-in-

V V Waiting to the Queen, and unopposed Member for Inver- ness-shire, knows where St. Kilda is. If he does not, as it is pro- bable that, like the British Government, the Lord-Advocate of Scotland, the Postmaster-General, and the majority of mankind, he does not he ought to be " heckled " next time he appears on the hustings as to his knowledge of his own county ; and if he does, he ought to be " heckled " much more thoroughly as to his neglect of the imperative interests of a most interesting section of his constituents. The people of St. Kilda have been totally forgotten by the British Government, and he has not roared in their defence. It is all his fault. So far as we can make out, after much diligent study, the island of St. Kilda is by a legal fiction a part of the parish of Harris, the southern peninsula of Lewis, from which it is some thirty miles distant ; and as Harris is included in Inverness-shire; we presunie St. Kilda is in that county too, and if so, the duty of defending St. Kilda from official oppression devrves on Mr. Donald Cameron, who will, we trust, when he lab heard the story, pre- fer constituents to Conservatism, and either scold or persuade Lord John Manners into remembering that St. Kilda, small as it is, is part of the British Isles, and that to omit any part of the British Isles from the purview and scope of British Postal ar- rangements is a grave dereliction of duty. Seriously, the omission of St. Kilda from postal arrangements, though probably accidental, and due to the exclusion of the island from Post-Office maps, involves severe oppression to very worthy Scotchmen, and ought to be immediately remedied.

St. Kilda is a very small-8,000 acres—very barren, very remote little island of the Hebrides, planted in a melancholy and ex- tremely riotous ocean, so far to the westward that it hay been found inconvenient to include it in the majority of maps, and it has in all seriousness been totally forgotten by the British Govern- ment. If a murderer appeared among its population, they would have to hang him themselves,jf there were wood enough for a gallows—which there is not—for they cannot get to Inverness. Not only is there no official on the place, but no one ever goes there, there is no delivery of the -mails—not even once a month or once a quarter—and there is absolutely no regular communi- cation kept up with the county of Inverness, to which the island is legally supposed to belong. The people are too poor to ieeep a boat large enough to cross the thirty miles of rough sea which intervenes between them and the nearest land, the place is out of the track of steamers, and except for one single day in the year, when an employe of the owner, Mr. Macleod, of Dunvegan, goes to levy £60 of rent, and make what profit he can of fish and feathers, the island is as unvisited as if it were in another planet, except by occasional yachtsmen and tourists, who, however, for generations back have never remained for more than a few hours. Lately, however, Mr. Sands, an artist with a love for solitude and for out-of-the-way experiences, made his way there, and remained on the island seven weeks, living in a cottage by himself, sketching the natives, and ap- parently practising for his own solace on the bagpipes; and his account of its people, simple and unpretentious as it is, has a singular pathos. He found the island inhabited by some seventy- three persons, remains of a rather larger number who had been severely visited by the-email-pox. and who at first were inclined to fear that he might bring some kind of infectious disorder with him. The Free Church of Scotland, however, which, to do it justice, never shrinks from its duty when apparent to itself, has planted a minister even in St. Kilda, to be guide, philosopher, friend, and king to the poor people ; and the minister, Mr. Mackay, the only man who talks English, does his duty with a will, standing there, Mr. Sands says, as permanent sentry, to keep sin and misfortune out of St. Kilda ; and as he exerted himself to remove their apprehensions, Mr. Sands received a warm welcome, and a great many presents of the only fuel, peat turf. The islanders, indeed, so far from becoming savage in their isolation, have become refined by it, and

form a, community resembling in many respects the Pitcairn Islanders. Crime is absolutely unknown. They are all Free Churchmen, and all communicants ; they observe the Sabbath with a more than Scotch rigidity ; they contribute no less than 120 a year to the Sustentation Fund,, a sum equal to a rate of 6s. 8d. in the pound on their rental ; and all read the Scriptures. Many of them can repeat from memory long chapters of the Gaelic Bible, they never fight, and they are studiously and almost superstitiously careful about giving offence to each other. They are so united, the six families of the island being of course closely related, that they are able to meet every morning and decide in council on the day's work, and they are unceasingly industrious :—

"During three months of winter the men weave rough cloth,— tweeds and blanketing, of which, besides providing clothes for them- selves, they export a considerable quantity. They vary this sedentary occupation by going to fish when the weather permits. In spring, they scale the crags and visit the adjacent islands for eggs and birds, and cultivate their plots of ground. Wherever one rambles, one sees some proof of their diligence. Every little spot of earth on the stony hills that will yield a crop is enclosed with a stone fence and cultivated. And even where the soil is too thin to be productive in itself, it is artificially deepened, by shovelling on it the thin soil adjacent. These beds or ridges are called lazy bits,' although they are worthy of a better name. They preserve the ashes of their tart fires for manure, mixing with it the entrails and carcases of fowls."

The women are as industrious as the men, doing all the work which many years ago was done for them by their horses—now extinct—herding their 18 cattle and 300 sheep, making cheese, spinning thread, snaring puffins on dangerous islets, and doing all the house-work. They are fine, stalwart men and women, but they have given up dancing and the singing-matches of which they were formerly fond, have forgotten their legends, and have abandoned all sports, even swimming, and seem, if we understand Mr. Sands' account, stricken with a kind of melancholy natural to people under *such circumstances, who have never seen a tree, never tasted fruit of any kind, could not distinguish a horse from a dromedary, and have lived for years under some strange doom as to their children :—

"Macaulay says, 'The St. Kilda infants are peculiarly subject to an extraordinary kind of sickness. On the fourth, fifth, or sixth night after their birth, many of them give up sucking ; on the seventh, their gums are so clenched together that it is impossible to get anything down their throats. Soon after this symptom appears, they are seized with convulsive fits, and after struggling against excessive torments, till their little strength is exhausted, die generally on the eighth day.' This mysterious illness still prevails, and it the cause is not speedily discovered, this interesting community will soon become extinct."

As the St. Kilda children, when removed to Harris, escape the distemper, it is probably due to the mothers' diet, which consists principally of barley-meal and roasted sea-birds, the islanders having a prejudice against fish, which is not, perhaps, so unreasonable as Londoners, who eat salt-water fish chiefly as a luxury, are apt to imagine. The St. Kildans fancy, like the people of the Eastern seas, that fish diet causes skin-disease, which may possibly be true. The rank puffin-flesh, however, seems to strengthen the few children who survive, for they grow up tall and healthy, are singularly bold cragsmen, are perfectly sober, a sure sign of health of stomach, and will dare any precipice in their search for their game, the sea-birds, with which the island and the neighbouring rocks abound, and on which they live. They used to use the heads and necks of the Solan geese for shoes, but they have, given that up now as uncivilised, though they still sweep the floor with a goose's wing. The women even visit the adjacent islets, and there, wholly unaided by men, catch the puffins in hundreds, barrelling their bodies for winter food and collecting the feathers for the owner's factor, who has established a kind of monopoly of the island produce. He, and he alone, in his annual visit, buys the fish and the feathers and whatever there is to sell, and deducting the rent and the price of the few articles they require, gives the people the balance, with which they buy the little they attempt to import, and support their church. They buy but little except a few bottles of whisky for medicine, living on the sea-birds and their eggs for food, weaving their own clothing, and for the ornaments which the women cannot wholly lack beating out copper pennies for Lrooches, using the island peat for fuel, and for light burning the oil spit at them by the fulmar petrels :—

" The fulmar petrel is about the size of a medium-sized gull, which, with the exception of the bill (which is strong and hooked at the point), he very much resembles in appearance. He has long wings, which he keeps extended when in the air, and a light, graceful flight. He seldom moves a pinion, but glides in curves and circles, as though to keep aloft did not cost him an effort. He frequents the island of St. Kilda, imd chooses a lofty habitat on the stupendous cliffs, and builds his nest on the grassy ledges. This bird lays only one egg, and the young one is ready to fly about the end of July. When caught, the fulmar ejects about a pint of malodorous oil from his nostrils, aiming it at the faces of his captors, who thrust his head into the dried stomach of a Solari goose, and so preserve the liquid, which they burn in their lamps, and also export in barrels."

These islanders have only one grievance, the one to which we have alluded, but it is a very heavy one. They are too poor to buy a big boat, and having no communication with Scotland, they are absolutely at the mercy of the factor, who sells them all they require and buys from them all they have at his own prices. He seems to be a decent person, not taking more advantage than might be expected, but the islanders think if they had a boat, or could

even send things in a mail-boat, say, once a month to Lewis, they might have more comfortable lives. They are capital oarsmen, and if the Post Office would give them a boat would row it for themselves for the monthly communication, and BO let poor Mr. Mackay, the minister, have his newspaper a month old, and• at all events a

chance of a letter from one of the few families who have left St. Kilda for the South or the Colonies, and who now have not even a possibility of communicating with their friends. The people pay taxes, buying whisky, and they are entitled to be recognised by the Post Office, and if we were Mr. Donald Cameron, Member for Inverness-shire, including St. Kilda, Lord John Manners should have an uncomfortable life of it until their claim was recognised. Perhaps it may be some claim on the Post- master-General's sympathies that the St. Kildans are all exceedingly polite, so polite that they will on the slightest hint even leave off the luxury of boring. They think it polite to visit a stranger and talk to him :—

" In the evening, about twenty women in a body paid me a visit, each bringing a burden of turf in her plaid, which they piled up in a corner of the room as a gift. After standing for a few minutes with pleasant smiles on their good-natured faces, they departed, with a kindly Feasgar math libh l' I was subsequently honoured with frequent calls from the fair sex, and like misfortunes, they never came singly, but in crowds. I had still more frequent visits from the men, who also came all together if they came at all. Their visits were no doubekindly meant ; but as they all talked, or rather bawled, at one time, and with powerful lungs, I was almost driven distracted, and at length, to drown the din, seized the pipes (the largest size) and played a piobrachd with all the variations. But their good-nature rendered this strategy of no avail, as they listened with the utmost decorum until the performance was finished, and after thanking rae politely, resumed their conversa- tion as if it had never been interrupted. But after a time their visits suddenly ceased, from which I inferred that my half-jocular grumblings had been communicated to them by the minister. They, however, remained as friendly as ever."

People who are capable of taking a hint like that deserve a mail-boat.