1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/St Kilda (Scotland)

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ST KILDA (Gaelic Hirta, “the Western land”), the largest of a small group of about sixteen islets of the Outer Hebrides, Inverness-shire, Scotland. It is included in the civil parish of Harris, and is situated 40 m. W. of North Uist. It measures 3 m. from E. to W. and 2 m. from N. to S., has an area of about 3500 acres, and is 7 m. in circumference. Except at the landing place on the south-east, the cliffs rise sheer out of deep water, and on the north-east side the highest eminence in the island, Conagher, forms a precipice 1220 ft. high. St Kilda is probably the core of a Tertiary volcano, but, besides volcanic rocks, contains hills of sandstone in which the stratification is distinct. The boldness of its scenery is softened by the richness of its verdure. The inhabitants, an industrious Gaelic-speaking community (110 in 1851 and 77 in 1901), cultivate about 40 acres of land (potatoes, oats, barley), keep about 1000 sheep and a few head of cattle. They catch puffins, fulmar petrels, guillemots, razor-birds, Manx shearwaters and solan geese both for their oil and for food. Fishing is generally neglected. Coarse tweeds and blanketing are manufactured for home use from the sheep’s wool which is plucked from the animal, not shorn. The houses are collected in a little village at the head of the East Bay. The island is practically inaccessible for eight months of the year, but the inhabitants communicate with the outer world by means of “sea messages,” which are dispatched in boxes when a strong west wind is blowing, and generally make the western islands or mainland of Scotland in a week.

The island has been in the possession of the Macleods for hundreds of years. In 1779 the chief of that day sold it, but in 1871 Macleod ol Macleod bought it back, it is stated, for £3000. In 1724 the population was reduced by smallpox to thirty souls. They appear to catch what is called the “boat-cold” caused by the arrival of strange boats, and at one time the children suffered severely from a form of lockjaw known as the “eight days’ sickness.”

See works by Donald Munro, high dean of the Isles (1585), M. Martin (1698), Rev. K. Macaulay (1764), R. Connell (1887); Miss Goodrich-Freer, The Outer Isles; Richard and Cherry Kearton, With Nature and a Camera (1896).