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St Kilda

St Kilda (Gaelic Hirta, “the western land “), the largest of a small group of about sixteen islets of the Outer Hebrides, old Inverness-shire, Scotland. It is included in the civil parish of Harris, and is situated 40 m. West of North Uist. It measures 3 miles from East to West and 2 miles from North to South, has an area of about 3500 acres, and is 7 miles 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.

Though now unpopulated, the previous inhabitants, an industrious Gaelic-speaking community used to cultivate about 40 acres of land (potatoes, oats, barley), keep about 1000 sheep and a few head of cattle. They caught puffins, fulmar petrels, guillemots, razorbirds, Manx shearwaters and solan geese both for their oil and for food. Fishing was generally neglected. Coarse tweeds and blanketing were 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 communicated with the outer world by means of “ sea messages,” which were despatched in boxes when a strong west wind was blowing, and generally made 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 of Macleod bought it back, it is stated, for £3000. In 1724 the population was reduced by smallpox to thirty souls. They appeared 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.”

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