Diaries of St Kilda couple to be put online

The last remaining islanders on St Kilda asked to be evacuated in 1930. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The last remaining islanders on St Kilda asked to be evacuated in 1930. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE diaries of a teacher and minister’s wife who lived on the remotest island in the British Isles before they were evacuated are to be put online.

Alice MacLachlan lived on the Atlantic Ocean outpost of St Kilda – 66km west of the Outer Hebrides – while her husband, Peter, was the minister.

The largest island in the archipelago, Hirta, was occupied until 1930 when the last remaining islanders left after they asked to be evacuated because their way of life was no longer sustainable.

The diary extracts coincide with the 85th anniversary of the evacuation and reveal an extraordinary insight into day-to-day St Kildan life, mentioning a number of the then residents of the island.

The diaries were presented to the National Trust for Scotland, which manages St Kilda, by the executor of Susan MacLachlan, Peter and Alice’s only daughter and are held in the archives of their head office in Edinburgh.

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Peter was minister on the islands between August 1906 and May 1909 and the three volumes of diaries cover this period, and also the six months prior to this whilst they were in their first position of minister and minister’s wife in the village of Garve, twenty miles north of Inverness.

An NTS spokeswoman said: “The aim is to present extracts of the original diaries along with transcripts for the period between January and June 2015 mirroring the time in 1906 when Alice and Peter were in Garve.

“From August 2015 onwards, the extracts will come from the MacLachlans’ time on St Kilda, reflecting the period from August 1906 until May 1909.”

She added: “It has not been possible to undertake a great deal of research into any of the people that Alice mentions in the first part of the diary extracts although if anyone has any information on this or on Alice and Peter during their time in Garve, please do contact the NTS.

Alice MacLachlan - nee Scroggie - was born in 1872 in Haddington, East Lothian, the fourth child of six to John Mackie Scroggie and his wife Mary.

They lived at Vetch Park, Haddington, although Alice was educated in Lincolnshire before later going into teaching in York.

She married the Reverend Peter MacLachlan at the age of 25 on the 14th June 1899.

Peter was born in September 1857 in Tobermory and became a Church of Scotland Minister.

Their first join position was in the village of Garve to the north of Inverness.

In January 1906, where the first volume of diaries begins, Peter and Alice received a letter informing them that manse was to be handed over to the Free Church of Scotland and that they were to be found a new position.

Later they were informed that they were being transferred to St Kilda. Initially, they had their misgivings about this new posting but soon settled into Kildan life as Alice’s diaries show.

Whilst on St Kilda, Peter took the morning classes from 10am, and Alice taught in the afternoon until 4pm - also trying to teach the girls to sew.

There were 22 children who attended the school, whereas previously it only opened when they were not required to help in the fields.

After returning to the mainland in 1909 they moved to Glenelg near Kyle opposite Skye for about three years. They later moved to Acharacle on Loch Shiel.

Sadly, Alice died of a cerebral haemorrhage at the very young age of 48 on 12 March 1920 aged 48, at Acharacle, Argyll.

She had been described “a striking woman, tall with auburn hair and very blue eyes.” She was very musical and had a good singing voice.

Throughout her diaries Alice refers to her husband by the nickname she gave him of ‘Duine’ which means ‘man’ in Gaelic.

Their only child was a daughter Susan Flora MacLachlan who was born in 1909 on St Kilda and who later trained as a nurse and moved to Rhodesia. She died in Sept 2000 and one of the executors of her will, LM Goncalves, who was also a close friend, passed on the diaries and other documents belonging to Susan to the Trust after her death

St Kilda was famously evacuated last century.

It was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland in 1957 and allocated World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1986 in recognition of its natural heritage, exceptional natural beauty and for the significant natural habitats that it supports.

In July 2004 this was extended to include the surrounding marine environment and in 2005, recognition was also given to St Kilda’s unique cultural landscape.

The first online extract will appear online on Monday.

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