Edinburgh Bookshelf

Kay's Originals Vol. 2

Search

Volume 9 Page 444
  Enlarge Enlarge  
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. 335 that of old the population was much larger than it has been of late years ; that the decrease has been occasioned chiefly by the ravages of the small-pox, which, many years ago, had been brought into the island by some foreign vessel, and had swept away at once the whole population, excepting four families ; and that, though some from the neighbouring isles, who had come to live among them, have made an accession to their number, yet this catastrophe had given a death-blow to the population which it has not yet fully recovered. This is at least a rational account of the matter. " Their tradition also regarding their origin is extremely probable ; for in language, customs, and manners, and indeed in every other respect, they bear so complete a resemblance to their neighbours in the Western Isles, m to leave no room to doubt that they have originally sprung from them. Besides, the very names which are most prevalent in these isles-as M'Leod, M'Donalcl, M'Kinnon, Morrison, etc.-hold the same predominance in St. Kilda, a circumstance which strongly confirms the supposition. The language they speak is pure Gaelic, and the dialect that of Uist and Harris. There is, however, R rapidity, and an indistinctness, if not a degree of lisp in their utterance, which makes it rather difficult at first for a stranger to understand them ; but, in the course of a short time, he gets over this difficulty. Their peculiar employments (as has been already stated) consist in attending to their little farms, their cattle and sheep, and preparing a certain quantity of feathers annually for the tacksman, which may be considered the most arduous and enterprising part of their work. But I fear they cannot be exempted from the charge of almost habitual indolence. They are seldom wholly idle ; but when they are at any work, one would think that they are more anxious t o j l l up than to occupy the time. How desirable on this, as well as on many other accounts, that they might become savingly acquainted with that Gospel, which teaches its true subjects to be 'diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord I ' In this, as in many respects, they admit of much improvement ; and I have no doubt that, without interfering with the prerogative of a landlord or tacksman, a prudent missionary, by his advice and example, might effect much in this way, m well as in more important respects. If he has a sensible, judicious wife, too, who would take an interest in the females, it would be of vast advantage to them ; and such a companion in St. Kilda, I need scarcely say, would in every respect be an acquisition to his own comfort." As anticipated, Mr. M'Donald found the islanders extremely destitute of religious instruction. They had no place of worship ; and when he addressed them in a body, they assembled in a barn-an uncomfortable shed which belonged to all in common. But, although few of them were capable of reading, and consequently entertained an imperfect notion of the nature of a religious faith, he admits that in morality of conduct they were at least equal to their neighbours of the Hebrides ; and he found that several vices prevalent in more refined society were unknown amongst this primitive and secluded people. In consequence of the statements furnished by Mr. M'Donald, a subscription was entered into to erect a place of worship on St. Kilda, together with a suitable house or manse. While this design was in contemplation, and before its completion, Mr. M'Donald undertook other three journeys to St. Kilda,' in the welfare of whose inhabitants he felt an interest which overcame every fatigue or inconvenience. On one of these occasions he had the pleasure of laying the foundation-stone of the church destined for their use, and of laying off two acres of ground as a small glebe, attached to the house of the missionary ; and on the last of his visits he had the peculiar satisfaction to be accompanied by the Rev. Mr. Neil M'Kenzie and his family, who had been sent out by the Society, and whom he introduced to the grateful islanders as their future pastor. 1 Tbese were performed in 1825, 1827, and 1830.
Volume 9 Page 445
  Enlarge Enlarge