Morvern Lines – The Oban Times and St Kilda clearance – 01.10.20

The Fishery Cruiser, HMS Harebell, that carried the islanders from St Kilda to the Sound of Mull from which they were taken ashore by the Princess Louise in August 1930. Photograph: the late Philip Vicary.

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This week we continue Iain Thornber’s extracts from the Oban Times 1930, throwing new light on St Kilda before and after it was abandoned. This extract is taken from a forthcoming book on the subject.

Friday 29th: The Harebell with the islanders and their remaining belongings, sailed from St Kilda, at 6am.

The Dunara Castle arrived at Oban 4am., when the sheep and cattle stock and household effects were landed on the Railway Pier. The furniture and other household effects were temporarily stored in the premises of Mr Robert Forbes, Argyll Square. On this occasion the stock comprised 573 sheep and 13 cattle.

It may be recalled that the Dunara Castle brought 666 sheep from Sty Kilda to Oban on 6the August, so that the total stock which fall to be sold in Messrs Corson’s Marts numbered some 1200 sheep. Harebell arrived at Lochaline, Morvern, at 6.30pm.

‘When the Harebell came abreast of Lochaline Pier she was met by the Princess Louise, which in the course of the afternoon had conveyed from Oban the furniture and other effects which had been landed there from St Kilda by the Dunara Castle. Eight of the ten families were disembarked at Lochaline and on landing at the pier they were received with cheers by the people of the village. The St Kildans were later driven to the houses allocated to them on the Ardtornish estate.

The remaining two families were conveyed by the Harebell to Oban, which was reached about 8.30pm. The arrival of the islanders at Oban was witnessed by an enormous crowd of towns people and visitors, and for a considerable time part of the Railway Pier was impassable. The islanders were conveyed to the landing stage in the Harebell’s pinnance. Mr Neil Ferguson, the Postmaster, and Mrs Ferguson were the first to step ashore. They were met by Mr Menzie, an official of the Oban Post Office, who, on behalf of Mr Andrew Fleming, Postmaster, took over the mails and documents and everything belonging to the Post Office in St Kilda.

September 1930: ‘This has been an eventful week in the annals of Morvern. For some time speculation was rife as to the day and hour when the St Kildans would arrive at Lochaline. Our Morvern correspondent writes: ‘The advance guard of pressmen, six in number, arrived on Wednesday, and, day by day, their ranks augmented, until ultimately sixteen gentlemen and one lady came on the scene to represent the Scottish and English newspaper press.

‘They were out to photograph twenty-eight persons. Nothing like this has ever occurred since MacPherson went to battle with four and twenty men and five and twenty pipers. Due preparation had been made for the reception of the migrants before their arrival. Beds and blankets, food and fuel, had been put into the houses at Ardness, Savary, Achabeg, Lochaline and Larachbeg, and friendly neighbours were ready to kindle the fires’.

‘It was rumoured that the Harebell would arrive at six pm on Friday evening, and a large concourse of the residents gathered at the pier to welcome the strangers. At six forty-five the vessel anchored off Ardness Point, about a mile from the pier and the ship’s tender, Princess Louise, immediately began to trans-ship the passengers and their chattels. The weather was entirely favourable. It was in impressive picture, the dark outline of the ship resting on a gently rippling sea, the hill-tops of Mull and Morvern wrapped in airy mists, over-head gleamy black clouds tearing in tatters, and the sun sinking in red and gold behind the heights of Aros.

‘As the Princess Louise neared the quay there was a deep hush, followed by a faint cheer that left the stoical faces on board quite unmoved. They betrayed no sign of joy or sorrow. nothing but a calm resignation to the hand of Fate. But the pressmen, who had for so long a time been leashed from launching on the quarry, went into action along the length of the pier while the victims of their attention filed slowly down the gangway, the older folks first, and then the rank and file, men, women and children – twenty-eight in all – receiving as they passed friendly handclasps from the onlookers. T

The St Kilda houses not long after the island was abandoned. Photograph: Robert Atkinson. Copyright The School of Scottish Studies, The University of Edinburgh.

‘There are thirty-six St Kildans, of whom women form the majority. Three families are to be settled under the afforestation scheme on the portion of the Ardtornish Estate, Morvern, acquired by the Forestry Commission. These families number 17 individuals, and include seven male workers. Arrangements have been made that these men will be provided with forestry work, to the extent of at least 150 days in the year, and each family will have a dwelling and a croft. There is not a tree on St Kilda, and those who have never been out of the island have never seen a tree, so probably that is the reason why forestry has been chosen for the new vocation of the men.

‘Another family is in the happy position of being an applicant for a small holding, and the Department of Agriculture has the matter in hand. For this one family it is reported that ‘nothing definite has been done, pending the receipt of information which has been asked as to the circumstances of the islander, as to what capital he may be able to furnish, and, generally, the type and location of the holding he is desirous of obtaining’! According to the report from official sources, no difficulty is anticipated in placing the women who are not provided for in the settlement of families.

One of two of the older women are to be provided for by the Inverness County Council; others, ‘it is hoped’, are likely to be taken into the household of friends. Then for the young women, there is, we are told, ‘an overwhelming number of applications for St Kildan girls as domestic servants’ thus the St Kildan community is to be launched into another life and to be separated from one another. ‘The island community have suffered too long through their condition of segregation. The desire of the authorities is rather to spread them amongst the mainland population! These are autocratic pronouncements.

‘One family, man and wife, have meantime been settled in Culross, Fife, the man being employed at the Tulliallan nursery of the Forestry Commission. This house – the only one meantime being available – was some distance from the man’s work, but arrangements are being made to transfer him at an early date to a house recently purchased by then Forestry Commission.

One household, consisting of a man, his wife, and her father, has been temporarily settled at Ardnarff, Strome Ferry, Ross-shire, where the man is working on a Forestry Commission scheme. As soon as a house can be built for them this family will be transferred to the Tulliallan estate of the Forestry Commission, where they will be near to the family already at Tulliallan, who are relatives. For one man employed by the Inverness County Council, lodgings were found in Inverness. A house has, however, now been found for him and his housekeeper. The house-keeper is a widow, and her daughter, who was first settled in domestic service in Skye, is at present residing with her with a view to entering such employment near Inverness’.

To be concluded next week.