An­cient is­land cen­sus sheds light on way of life on St Kilda

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­

A 250-YEAR- OLD cen­sus show­ing the ear­li­est recorded list of the pop­u­la­tion of the is­land of St Kilda has been dis­cov­ered thanks to work by the Na­tional Records of Scot­land.

The cen­sus lists 90 peo­ple liv­ing on the is­land on June 15, 1764 – 38 males and 52 fe­males, in­clud­ing 19 fam­i­lies and nine in­di­vid­u­als. Af­ter list­ing their names, the cen­sus says that they each ate ‘36 wild fouls eggs and 18 fouls’ (seabirds) a day, an over­all daily con­sump­tion of 3,240 eggs and 1,620 birds.

The doc­u­ment was dis­cov­ered among the papers of Clan Maclach­lan dur­ing cat­a­logu­ing by the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Archives for Scot­land (NRAS), the branch of the Na­tional Records of Scot­land which holds his­tor­i­cal papers held in pri­vate hands in Scot­land.

It is not known ex­actly why the cen­sus was taken, or by whom, but it is likely it was made to con­trib­ute to a wider re­port on the He­brides.

Un­til now, the old­est known record of the pop­u­la­tion dated from 1822. As the later doc­u­ment in­cluded ages, it is pos­si­ble to track five res­i­dents of St Kilda who ap­peared on both cen­suses, 52 years apart.

The 1764 cen­sus also in­cludes the an­ces­tors of the fi­nal five fam­i­lies to be evac­u­ated from the is­land in 1930 – the MacQueens, Fer­gu­sons, Gil­lies, MacDon­alds and MacKin­nons.

Dr Ali­son Rosie, reg­is­trar of the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Archives for Scot­land, said: ‘This doc­u­ment sheds new light on the his­tory of St Kilda and the fam­i­lies who lived there, and gives us an in­sight into their lives more than 250 years ago.

‘Through it, we can trace in­di­vid­u­als back 50 years ear­lier than the next sur­viv­ing cen­sus, and many of the peo­ple listed were the an­ces­tors of the fam­i­lies who left the is­land in 1930.

‘One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing as­pects of work­ing for the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of Archives for Scot­land, which cel­e­brates its 70th birth­day this year, is the po­ten­tial for dis­cov­er­ing new and ex­cit­ing doc­u­ments like this, of­ten in un­ex­pected places, and then draw­ing them to the at­ten­tion of his­to­ri­ans and the pub­lic.’

Don­ald Ma­clauch­lan of Clan Maclach­lan said: ‘The doc­u­ment was found as part of a hoard of papers – around 13 large boxes. When I heard from Char­lie Maclach­lan of Maclach­lan the younger that they had been found, I asked to see some of them and the first doc­u­ment I pulled out dated from 1590. I re­alised the time had come to call in the pro­fes­sion­als.

‘The team from NRAS had the papers spread out all over the din­ing room of Castle Lach­lan – which is not a small room – and went through them, gasp­ing a bit, be­fore ex­plain­ing that they would need more than an af­ter­noon to eval­u­ate them, box­ing them back up and tak­ing them away. A year and half’s study pro­duced a 79page cat­a­logue of ev­ery­thing we have.

‘There’s some very in­ter­est­ing ma­te­rial about Clan Maclach­lan his­tory in there, of which this St Kilda doc­u­ment is just one part.’

Cul­ture sec­re­tary Fiona Hys­lop added: ‘Many peo­ple are fas­ci­nated by the his­tory of St Kilda, and this cen­sus gives us a new in­sight into the his­tory of the is­land and its peo­ple, which will now be avail­able to re­searchers thanks to the work of Na­tional Records of Scot­land.

‘Dis­cov­er­ies such as th­ese add great depth to our cul­ture and her­itage, help­ing us to un­der­stand more about our na­tion’s story.’

Clock­wise from left: St Kilda’s res­i­dent don their best clothes; a ferry boat is packed; Christina Ann McQueen (cen­tre), daugh­ter of Fin­lay McQueen, out­side the fac­tor’s house, St Kilda, c 1913; a copy of the cen­sus doc­u­ment; and St Kil­dans with Soay sheep.

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