90-year anniversary since St Kilda islanders requested evacuation

The 90th anniversary of the day the last residents of St Kilda asked to be evacuated from their island home will be marked on Sunday.

The last 36 people living in the archipelago, 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, were evacuated on August 29 1930.

They had asked for help three months earlier on May 10 when they wrote a letter to the secretary of state for Scotland saying that life on the island was not sustainable.

The letter was passed to the skipper of the first passing trawler to post and soon afterwards George Henderson, inspector of public health, went to St Kilda and reported back that “swift action” was required to remove the residents.

Evacuation letter
Evacuation letter

Julie Hunt, chairwoman of the St Kilda club, said that the decision to leave the archipelago, which had been inhabited for at least 4,000 years, was a difficult but necessary one for the residents in 1930.

She said: “They didn’t want to go but they knew it was the best thing to do. They’d just come out of a particularly devastating winter and things had got harder and harder for them.

“They weren’t self-supporting and able to ‘better themselves’ as the letter says. They knew they couldn’t survive but they didn’t know what the other options were. It had got to the point that they were relying on ships coming in and those were becoming less frequent.

“There’s a history of them sending letters out on the mail boats asking for food as they were starving but in the 1930s that shouldn’t be something that was happening.”

She added: “The younger islanders were more aware of the world outside and wanted to start afresh. For some of the older members of the community, the decision to leave was harder.

“They were more of the opinion that St Kilda was their life and all they’d ever known.”

Puffin colony breeding figures down
Puffin colony breeding figures down

The uninhabited archipelago, home to nearly one million seabirds, has been in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) since 1957.

In the letter, the residents asked the government for help to leave the island and find homes and occupation on the mainland.

They wrote: “For some years the manpower has been decreasing. Now the total population of the island is reduced to 36. Several men out of this number have definitely made up our minds to go away this year to such employment on the mainland.

“This will really cause a crisis as the present number are hardly sufficient to carry on the necessary work of the place.

“These men are the mainstay of the island at present, as they tend the sheep, do the weaving and look after the general welfare of the widows.

“Should they leave the conditions of the rest of the community would be such that it would be impossible for us to remain on the island another winter. ”

The islanders said they did not ask to be settled together as a separate community, but were seeking help to be moved somewhere where “there would be a better opportunity of securing our livelihood”.

St Kilda is the UK’s only dual Unesco World Heritage Site – for natural and cultural heritage – and is home to the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins.