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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


332 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. Not discouraged by the reproof conveyed in the decision of the Assembly, Mr. M'Donald is known in the religious world for his praiseworthy exertions in various parts of the Highlands, and particularly in behalf of the previously much-neglected inhabitants of St. Kilda'-the most distant and isolated of all the islands of Scotland. Commissioned by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, his first visit was undertaken in 1822, for the purpose of ascertaining the religious and moral condition of the inhabitants. In his journal Mr. M'Donald gives an interesting account of his reception by the natives. He was accompanied by Mr. M'Lellan, the tacksman of the island; and not being able to effect a landing on the eastern coast, in consequence of the boisterous state of the weather, the boat veered round to the leeward, where shelter was found in an arm of the sea. Upon landing, he and Mr. M'Lellan walked towards the village, a distance of nearly two miles. " When descending the brow of the hill above the village," says the journal, "we observed some persons standing without ; and on a sudden, in consequence, as we afterwards learned, of his sounding the alarm, all the souls in the village appeared at once ; at first flying in different directions, until they discovered from what quarter the strangers were coming, when they made toward us in a body, shook hands with their tacksman, and welcomed him to the place. After these salutations were over, he introduced me to them as a minister who had come to visit them, and was sent by the Society. Upon this they immediately shook hands with me, as if we had been many years acquainted ; and, ' God bless the Society which sent him, and God bless him for coming,' was the general exclamation." Mr. M'Donald remained nearly a fortnight on the island, during which he embraced every opportunity of preaching to them ; and in his private conversations entered so warmly into their affairs and interests, that when the day of departure came, he had much difficulty in sustaining the emotions'with which the scene overpowered him. Mr. M'Lellan and he were accompanied by the inhabitants to the beach, where they assisted in launching the boat-took an affecting farewell-and long after the party had bid adieu to the shores of St. Kilda, they could still see the group of islanders clustering round the gentle rising ground, gazing as if unwilling to lose sight of their recent visitors. The report which Mr. M'Donald submitted to the Society on his return contains some interesting particulars regarding St. Kilda and its inhabitants. We need offer no apology for the following extract :- 1 St. Kilda, or Kirta, a solitary isle in the Atlantic Ocean, belonging to the range of the Hebrides, but removed to a considerable distance from the main cluster. The nearest land to it is Harris, from which it is distant sixty miles in a west-south-west direction ; and it is about one hundred and forty mile3 from the nearest point of the mainland of Scotland.-EncycZopdiu Britannica. Of late a trip to St. Kilda has become a favourite steamboat and pleasure-yacht excursion ; and some curious, though rather exaggerated, descriptions of the isle and its inhabitants were in circulation a short time ago. In former days, however, little intercourse was maintained with the mainland ; and so late as about the middle of last century the island was the prison of the lady of Erskine of Grange, brother of the Earl of Mar, attainted for his concern in the Rebellion of 1715. The cruel treatment of the unfortunate lady was attributed to a violence of temper on her part, and a fear on that of her husband lest she might betray the secrets of the party to which he was attached. She was a daughter of Chiesley of Dalry, who was executed for the murder of President Lockhart in 1689.
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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES, 333 The length of the island appears to be about three miles from the westernmost point to that on the north side of the eastern bay, and its breadth nearly two miles from north to south. It is surrounded with high and almost perpendicular rocks, except on the N.W. and S.E. sides, in each of which there is a small bay, or arm of the sea ; of which the latter alone affords any harbouring place for vessels. The land is in general rather elevated ; and there are three hills of considerable height. Of these, by far the highest is Cmgar, on the north side, supposed to be upwards of 1400 feet above the level of the sea ; the next, Ornuall-hill, on the east ; and the third, Rmveil (Gaelic, Rdh-mheall), on the south-west side of the Island. '( I could discover no old edifices on this island, except that called Christ's Church, near thk village, and situated in the burying-ground ; and St. Brianan's, a little above the bay, on the south-west side-both of which are in ruins. " There are two small islands besides the main one, which are serviceable to the people for pasture, as well as for the fowls which frequent them. The one is called Soay, sitnate on the west side of St. Kilda, and separated from it by a narrow channel. It is about a quarter of a mile long, and scarcely half as broad. The other is Boreray, about four-miles in a direct line to the north, and a little larger than Soay. " The ground is used chiefly for pasture ; and the islanders keep a stock of sheep and black cattle on it, from which they are supplied with articles of clothing, milk, butter, cheese, etc. There is no moss on the island ; and the only fuel consists of turf cut on the hills, and carried home a9 it is needed. The group of houses in which the people reside, for it scarcely deserves the name of a village, is situate a little above the eastern bay, and is composed of twenty small huts, built with stone, and thatched with turf and straw. Being surrounded with hills on all sides, except the south and south-east, it is pretty well sheltered, unless when the wind blows from these quarters. "All the cultivated lauds lie around the village in scattered and irregular patches ; of which each family in the island, about twenty in number, has nearly an equal quantity-what they call a farthingland, or something about two acres, This sows about five firlots of barley and six of oats, which, with potatoes, are the only crops they raise. Though the soil is naturally rich, yet, owing to want of good management, it seldom yields above three returns. Hence they cannot conveniently dispose of much of their grain ; and of late years, indeed, I believe they have done but very little in this way. Besides, every three years, these lands pass by lot from one hand to another ; a practice which evidently militates greatly against real improvement. In making it into meal, they grind it in querns, or little hand-mills, there being neither windmills nor watermills in the island. "Their houses, or huts, are all exactly of the same form and dimensions, and in internal appearance also completely alike. They consist of but one apartment, in which the family is accommodated at one end, and the cattle at the other. The walls contain their beds and places for their stores, for which purpose they are generally six or seven feet thick. No chairs or tables are to be seen : wooden stools and even stones being made to supply their place. The ashes are never carried out of the house, nor even removed to the part of the room appropriated to the cattle, but are spread every morning under the feet of the inmates, in order, aa they call it, to help the manure. The floor, thus raised in the course of the season to a considerable height, is reduced to its proper level only once a year, when the whole matter so accumulated is conveyed to the fields I reasoned with the people on the impropriety of this habit, chiefly on the ground of ita being injurious to their health and comfort, but to little effect, long custom having reconciled them to it. As might be expected,'also, their habita in other respects, and particularly in point of cleanliness and dress, are much of a piece with the interior of their houses, their persons being extremely dirty, and seeming to undergo no sort of purification, except once a week ; while their clothes are in general coarse and ragged, though, on Sunday, both the young men and women dress a little more decently. I was somewhat surprised at not finding the kilt and hose among them, instead of which, the men commonly wear a jacket or short coat, with trousers or pantaloons. There is scarcely anything like division of labour among them, every man being his own tailor, shoemaker, and, in most cases, weaver, there being no thorough-bred workman of any kind in the island. " Notwithstanding these habits, it is not a little remarkable that they enjoy such a degree of health and longevity. During my residence among them, there waa not a single individual The grain also, as mightrbe expected, is rather of an inferior quality.
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