St Kildans lost their self- sufficiency, relying on imports of food,
fuel and building materials and furnishing for their homes. In 1852,
36 people emigrated to Australia, and population decline began (many
of the emigrants died en-route, but a few settled in Melbourne,
and to this day a suburb of the city is called St Kilda). The islanders
felt increasingly isolated from the outside world and disliked particularly
the lack of regular communications.
In 1876, during
a period of food shortage, the first St Kilda mailboat was sent
out as a distress signal. A letter was sealed in a wooden container
with a sheep's bladder acting as a float. Subsequently, many of
these mailboats were consigned to the sea, and most reached shore
in Scotland or Scandinavia carried by the prevailing currents.
Posting the mailboat in 1897
Photograph: Cherry Kearton
In 1912 there
were acute food shortages and in 1913 an outbreak of influenza.
The war of 1914-18 brought a naval detachment to Hirta and regular
deliveries of mail and food from naval supply vessels. When these
services were withdrawn at end of war feelings of isolation increased.
There was more emigration of able-bodied young islanders and a breakdown
of the island economy. In 1930 the remaining 36 islanders requested
evacuation to the mainland.
Islanders carrying their belongings to the jetty at the evacuation
Photograph: Glasgow Herald, 30 August 1930
In 1931 St
Kilda was sold to the Marquess of Bute, a keen ornithologist. He
bequeathed them to The National Trust for Scotland in 1957.
St Kilda Diaries — The diary of Alice MacLachlan 1906 – 1909