St Kilda, the island oft described as being on the edge of the world, has long captured the imagination of artists and travellers alike. Its remote location, its unspoiled landscape, its mysterious past, and eventual evacuation in 1930, before becoming a world heritage site in 1986, continues to generate fascination and awe in equal measure.
One man who can claim some small measure of credit for popularising St Kilda to the outside world, is Kenneth Macaulay in his The History of St Kilda, republished this month with a foreword from Roger Hutchinson. Drawing upon an account of his visit to the island in 1763, travelling clergyman, Macaulay, not only presents us with a unique snapshot of anthropology, but also a moment in history of a people who’s like we shall never see again on this Earth.
Macaulay delves deep into the island’s history, its topography, the character and social structure of its inhabitants, and presents a fascinating insight into the myriad of flora and fauna that inhabit the island. Of particular mention and praise, are the accounts of the islanders’ dare-devil escapades in securing birds’ eggs for their daily diet, a feat that involved scaling sheer cliff faces in the dead of night!
As to be expected from a man of the cloth, the moral and religious habits of the islanders are much discussed, often in a dry, uninspiring way, but this should not distract from what is an interesting anthropological account. The solitary map provided in the book leaves a lot to be desired, and is rather annoyingly spread over two pages, but the publishers deserve credit for the simple and straightforward way the book is presented. Anyone with a keen interest in the history of St Kilda or its geography, will find much to enjoy about this book.