Last inhabitants of St Kilda evacuated - On this day in history


29 August 2016
29-August-St_Kilda_Village_Bay-34454.jpg St Kilda Village Bay
The last 36 inhabitants of St Kilda were voluntarily evacuated on 29 August 1930

On this day in history, 1930: The last 36 remaining inhabitants of St Kilda are voluntarily evacuated to other parts of Scotland.

St Kilda is an isolated archipelago containing the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The largest island, and the only one ever inhabited, is Hirta, whose sea cliffs are the highest in the UK.

The earliest written records of island life date from the Late Middle Ages, but St Kilda may have been permanently inhabited for at least two millennia, the population probably never exceeding 180 (and certainly no more than 100 after 1851).

The evacuation of St Kilda came about for many reasons. The islands' inhabitants had existed for centuries in relative isolation until tourism and the presence of the military during the First World War led the islanders to seek alternatives to privations they routinely suffered. The changes made to the island by visitors in the 19th century disconnected the islanders from the way of life that had allowed their forebears to survive in this unique environment.

After the war, most of the young men left the island, and the population fell from 73 in 1920 to 37 in 1928. After the death of four men from influenza in 1926, there was a succession of crop failures in the 1920s. 

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On 29 August 1930, a ship called Harebell took the entire remaining population of 36 inhabitants to Morvern on the Scottish mainland, a decision they took collectively themselves.

The last of the native St Kildans, Rachel Johnson, died in April 2016 at the age of 93, having been evacuated at the age of 8.

Now, the only year-round residents are military personnel; a variety of conservation workers, volunteers and scientists spend time there in the summer months.

Pictured: Village Bay, Hirta, St Kilda, Scotland © Ian Mitchell, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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