St Kilda pictures discovered in college archives

Women and children with their dogs gathered around the St Kilda post office. Picture: University of Glasgow
Women and children with their dogs gathered around the St Kilda post office. Picture: University of Glasgow
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RARE photographs of life on the isolated Hebridean islands of St Kilda have been discovered in the archives of a Scottish university.

St Kilda is the remotest outpost of the British Isles, lying some 41 miles west of the Isle of Benbecula.

After thousands of years of human occupation, its remaining population was famously relocated to the mainland at their own request in 1930.

The previously unseen “holiday snaps” are from a tourist trip to the islands, believed to have taken place in the late 1920s.

The eight unknown photographs of St Kilda were discovered in the archives of the University of Glasgow. The prints are from the private collection of Thomas Stewart Patterson, who was a lecturer in Organic Chemistry at the university in 1904, and was the first Gardiner Professor of Organic Chemistry from 1919 until 1942.

Susan Bain, Western Isles manager for the National Trust for Scotland, which looks after the islands, said: “The images are very interesting as not only do they show the tourist trade in the early 20th century, but we can also see the village as it was nearly a century ago and identify some of the people who were soon to leave their island home for ever.”

Islanders spoke a unique dialect of Gaelic and maintained their own communal political system.

However, while the teeming birdlife of the islands provided subsistence for the islanders, it was hardly a paradise. Life was tough in such a barren and isolated place, and there was a high rate of infant mortality.

At the turn of the 20th century, tourist trips to the main island of Hirta were advertised with the slogan, “Come and See Britain’s Modern Primitives”.

The photographs chart a grand day-out on a steamer to Hirta, where tourists mingle with the local people and visit the few buildings, including the St Kilda Post Office.

Locals would turn a profit by selling tweeds and eggs to visitors. It would seem that the trip combined Professor Patterson’s interest in sailing and anthropology.

A university spokeswoman said of the images: “They offer a fascinating glimpse into a vanished way of life.”


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