Last week saw the arrival of one of the National Trust’s many expert conservators, Fiona Butterfield. Fiona made the whistle-stop day trip on the chopper from Kyle of Lochalsh to examine the Ferguson Memorial, an ornate marble gravestone within St Kilda’s graveyard.
As you can see from the images below, the lead lettering on the stone has been weathering off in recent years – finding the perfect way of exactly restoring these hand-made letters is a challenge. Fiona took casts of some of the letters using a fast-setting putty, examined the stone, and made some drawings. We initially had difficulty getting the putty to set due to the bright sunlight – an abundance of sunlight is a common problem on St Kilda… It is not hoped that a detailed spec. can be drawn up and a specialist conservator can repair the monument in the near future.
The Ferguson Memorial was erected by Alexander Ferguson for his parents, and is the most ornate stone in the graveyard. A. G. Ferguson was a significant character in 19th and 20th century St Kildan life and one of its success stories. A product of St Kilda’s surprisingly advanced Victorian education system; Alexander was highly literate in Gaelic and English and had passed his exams with flying colours in the 1880s. He was also a member of the powerful Ferguson family on St Kilda who monopolised the positions of ground officer (official representative for the St Kildan community to the Factor), Kirk Elder, and Post Master in the later 19th and early 20th century. Alexander was destined for greatness…
In 1892 he set off for Glasgow where he eventually set up a successful business in Hope Street. This business, amongst other things, sold produce from St Kilda directly to the Glasgow markets, circumventing the landlord and factor who at times held a stranglehold on St Kildan exports.
Alexander Ferguson continued to visit St Kilda regularly throughout his life and had the Ferguson Memorial erected after the death of his parents. He continued to be involved in St Kilda after 1930, visiting most summers, and was still a frequent visitor to St Kilda on his yacht well into his 80s.
Àrsair Hiort/ St Kilda Archaeologist