Scotland's History: The last households on St Kilda in 1930

The 1930 Valuation Rolls record a snapshot of the remote island community of St Kilda before it was evacuated on 29 August 1930. St Kilda was Britain’s remotest settlement, lying more than 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides off Scotland’s north-west coast.

Dugald Maclean, United Free Church missionary and Registrar of St Kilda with a young islander, April 1911

Dugald Maclean, United Free Church missionary and Registrar of St Kilda with a young islander, April 1911

National Records of Scotland, GR05/324/80E

In 1930 Scotland's population stood at over 4.8 million, but on St Kilda there were just 36 islanders: 13 men, 10 women, 8 girls and 5 boys. They formed 10 households, leaving unoccupied 6 of the 16 single storey cottages that they rented from the landowner, Sir Reginald Macleod of Macleod. He lived at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, and had recently become the laird after the death of his brother Norman in November 1929.

The St Kilda community was dwindling away. Three tenants were widows, and another three islanders not listed here were also widows. The widows and the three or four widowers mostly lived with one or two younger family members, or lived alone.

The decision to evacuate the island archipelago was taken because life there was becoming untenable. So many islanders had left that the traditional livelihoods of raising sheep for wool, spinning and weaving tweed, fishing, and harvesting of seabird eggs and oil, was much harder to sustain. The health and well-being of the St Kildans had also long been a concern, and some recent illnesses and the tragic deaths of two young women in 1930 underlined the islanders’ remoteness from adequate medical facilities.

Islanders and visitors at the St Kilda jetty, 1913.

Islanders and visitors at the St Kilda jetty, 1913

National Records of Scotland, GD1/713/1/5

The islanders continued to suffer as weather conditions often prevented adequate food supplies, as well as mail, from being delivered between autumn and spring. After a harsh winter, in May 1930 twenty islanders petitioned the government for resettlement on the mainland. The Scottish Office responded by making arrangements to evacuate the 36 islanders and their 1,500 sheep. Officials found forestry work for the men, and houses for all the islanders to live, mainly in Morvern near Oban, in Ross-shire and in Fife.

The islanders of St Kilda in the 1930 Valuation Roll

The only buildings listed in the roll are the sixteen houses in Main Street. Neither the factor’s house nor the minister’s manse were included. Some of the entries in the roll were out of date but they reveal the predicament the islanders found themselves in in 1930 almost as much as the names of the islanders still in residence. Some surnames have been changed in the following list to the spelling the people themselves used. The islanders' ages are taken from the list of evacuees in 1930, which can be seen in the website article mentioned at the end.

List of St Kilda households, Valuation Roll, 1930

List of St Kilda households, Valuation Roll, 1930

National Records of Scotland, VR103/46/352

House no. 1

Norman MacKinnon. Married with five sons and three daughters, aged between 20 and 3 years, the MacKinnons were the largest family on the island. They suffered badly in the lean winter of 1929-30, and their wish to leave the island helped persuade others that they too would have to go in 1930.

House no. 2

Finlay MacQueen. He was the second-oldest man on the island, aged 67.

House no. 3

‘Heirs of William Macdonald’. House vacant. Macdonald died at his daughter Annie’s house at Uig, Lewis, in 1925, the year after he and his family left St Kilda.

House no. 4

Neil Ferguson junior. House vacant. Although listed as tenant of no. 4, Neil, aged 32, his wife Mary Ann, and daughter lived with his father at no. 5.

House no. 5

Neil Ferguson senior, aged about 54, was ‘ground officer’ or local agent for the laird, and earned money for running the post office from a tin shed next to his house. His valued rent, £4.17s.6d., was the highest on St Kilda.

House no.6

‘Heirs of Widow Ann Gillies’. House vacant. The aunt of Finlay Gillies at no. 7, she had died in 1925.

House no. 7

Finlay Gillies, was the oldest islander at the age of 72. He had lost two sons. Neil’s widow Catherine and two sons, Donald, 12, and Ewan, 8, lived with him. Finlay’s other widowed daughter-in-law, Annie, lived at no. 14.

House no. 8

Malcolm MacDonald. House vacant. Malcolm died in January 1929, and his daughter Annie had left before the evacuation.

House no. 9

John R MacDonald. Aged 57. Mrs Ewen Gillies and her daughter (no. 12) were said to be keeping house for him.

House no. 10

Donald MacQueen. House vacant. MacQueen had moved to Clydebank by around 1924. His sister Mary and her husband John Gillies were living in no. 10 around 1929-30, before John’s departure for Glasgow, and Mary’s subsequent death there in May 1930. Their son Norman stayed with his grandmother at no. 15.

House no. 11

Mrs Christina MacQueen, widow. Aged 60, she was the second oldest female islander.

House no. 12

‘Widow Ewen Gillies, for child’. House vacant. Ann Gillies was the widow of Ewen Gillies, who died falling over a cliff in 1916. Their marriage in 1912 produced a daughter Mary Ann, born in 1915. Both mother and daughter signed the petition for evacuation in 1930 as if living in this house, but were said to be living at no. 9, keeping house for John R MacDonald.

House no. 13

Donald Gillies. He lived with his wife Christina and daughters Kate, aged 11, and Rachel, 7. Rachel in fact enjoyed her eighth birthday on 8 July 1930, just weeks before she left St Kilda with her parents. She married Ronald Johnson in 1950, and was the last living native islander, dying aged 93 on 4 April 2016.

House no. 14

‘Widow Ann Gillies, for child’: Mrs Annie Gillies had lost her husband Donald, son of Finlay Gillies (no. 7) in 1921, her third daughter Christina (Chrissie) in 1925, and on 21 July 1930 her eldest daughter Mary died here of pthisis, a form of tuberculosis, aged 22. In 1930 Annie Gillies left the island with her surviving daughters Rachel Annie, aged 19, and Flora, aged 10.

House no. 15

‘Widow Ann Gillies and John Gillies’: Mrs Annie Gillies and her married son John. Her grandson Norman John Gillies was living with her in 1930 during his parents’ absence from no. 10. Having been rushed to hospital in Glasgow, on 26 May 1930 John’s wife died of complications after giving birth to a daughter, who also died.

House no. 16

Ewen MacDonald. Ewen, aged about 42,and his younger brother Lachlan, 24, were both single and lived with their widowed mother Rachel MacDonald, the oldest female islander. Their widowed sister Catherine Gillies lived at no. 7.

Learn more about the island's remarkable history in Stories from St Kilda, a special feature drawn from the national archives available through the NRS.

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