Postcards from St Kilda arrive 10 years later after washing up in Norway

It took ten years for them to get there, but postcards that set sail from St Kilda on one of the island’s special mail boats have reached their destination after being found by children on a beach in Norway.

A postcard from St Kilda: Mail sent by St Kilda mail boat has finally reached its destination 10 years after it set sail from the island. The post was found washed up on a beach in Norway. PIC: NTS/PA Wire.
A postcard from St Kilda: Mail sent by St Kilda mail boat has finally reached its destination 10 years after it set sail from the island. The post was found washed up on a beach in Norway. PIC: NTS/PA Wire.

The post has now been delivered to the addressees - including Prince Charles - to mark the anniversary of the evacuation of the island’s last residents, which took place 90 years ago today after they appealed for help to leave their homes deep in the Atlantic.

The mail boats were part of life on St Kilda, which sits around 40 miles west of its nearest neighbour in the Outer Hebrides, and were launched into the sea in the hope that the contents would be picked up by passing ships or reach ashore.

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Archaeologist Ian McHardy, of the National Trust for Scotland, built a waterproof replica to mark the anniversary a decade ago before launching it into the sea.

A man launches a mail boat from Hirta, St Kilda, where people developed their own way to communicate with the outside world. Post was pushed into the waves in small waterproof vessels with hopes it would be picked up by passing ships or reach ashore. PIC: National Trust for Scotland/PA Wire.

It contained postcards to seven people including thePrince of Wales, and Norman John Gillies, who left St Kilda aged five and died in 2013.

Almost a decade later, four children found the boat more than 1,000 miles away near their grandfather’s boathouse at the beach on Andoya, the northernmost island in the Vesteralen archipelago off northern Norway in April.

As they carried the boat home, one of the children dropped it with the vessel bursting open to reveal the postcards, still in perfect condition, one of which asked the finder to send the mail on.

The Prince of Wales, a patron of the NTS, which owns and cares for St Kilda, has now received his mail, which was written by Susan Bain, the island manager.

He said: “I was delighted to receive your postcard and fascinated to hear about its decade-long journey to reach me, via the Arctic Circle no less.

“In such a fast-moving world it is touching to know that the tradition of a simple mailboat from the remote island of St Kilda can safely travel so far.

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What it’s like living on St Kilda

“I have never forgotten my visit to this amazing archipelago in 1971 and I so look forward to returning one day, not only to remind myself of its rugged beauty, but also its extraordinary history and breathtaking bird life.”

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The card for Mr Gillies was sent to his son, John, who lives in Aldham in Suffolk.

He said: “It’s incredible really. For a postcard that has been in the water for ten years it’s in remarkably good condition, you would think it was just sent yesterday by someone. It really was a surprise.

“My dad died in 2013 but he would have been really chuffed to have received it. For me to get it all these years later, it’s quite touching really.

“Even though he left when he was five he had very vivid memories of the island.”

Mr Gillies has a unique connection to the history of the mailboats.

His father’s grandmother’s brother was the 14-year-old schoolboy, Alexander Gillies Ferguson, who launched the 1885 mailboat that is said to have started the St Kildan tradition.

Mr McHardy, who made the boat out of kiln-dried pine and silicone, said: “I always suspected and hoped it would turn up eventually but I had no idea where and it was so long that I had kind of given up hope of it being found.

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“I was just really excited to find out it had travelled all the way to the north of Norway.”