The Hiort Mail Boat Arrives in Uig, 1885

As Hiort Weekend continues, here’s a piece contributed by Alasdair Shearer (Aird/Australia) from the Celtic Magazine.  The BBC programme An t-Hiortach, about the last surviving evacuee Norman Gillies and his return visit to the island, is available on the iPlayer now (UK only and until 5 Sept), and for those who get BBC Alba, there are more programmes on St Kilda to watch today and Monday (see below).  There was also a piece in the Guardian magazine yesterday about Norman Gillies (thanks to Alison for that.)

From The Celtic Magazine, Vol. XL; by Alexander Mackenzie, Alexander Macgregor, Alexander Macbain.  Inverness 1886.

It is only a few weeks since two sad messages from St Kilda were cast ashore upon the coasts of the Long Island. Both told a melancholy tale of disaster and distress, and both were launched upon the bosom of the mighty Atlantic in “little ships,” rudely fashioned out of a piece of wood, and rigged with a tiny mast and sail. Bravely did the little vessels bear the tale committed to their charge, withstanding the great Atlantic billows, and sailing merrily on to the land, where there were sympathetic and kindly hearts to listen to the simple St. Kilda folk’s sad story. The first one which arrived was picked up on Thursday, 24th September last, by a rural letter-carrier on the beach at Aird Uig, a township on the West Coast of the Lewis, near Gallan Head. The message itself was contained in a bottle, which was inserted in a small piece of wood roughly shaped into the form of a boat. The wood was branded “St Kilda,” and the words “open this” were cut on a small board covering the bottle. The message was written on what appeared to have been the leaf of a school exercise-book, and another slip of paper enclosed bore the address – “Mr. Kenneth Campbell, teacher, Uig, Lewis, by Stornoway.”

The message ran as follows : –

St Kilda Sep the 8th 1885

My Dear Sir – I am now going to write you a letter and sending her in one of the little ships in which we were sailing on the shore as you know to let you know all the knews. the men were building a house just a little house for the cows a great storm came on and all the corn and barley were swept away by the storm and one of the boats was swept away by the sea the men of St Kilda is nearly dead with the hunger. They send two boats from St Kilda to go to Haries not the fishing boats but little piece of wood like the little one which I send. I sent my best loves unto you. – I am yours truly –  Alexander Ferguson