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St. Kilda, Past and Present
Chapter VII. - Climate, Crops, and Live Stock


I HAVE already referred to the tempestuous gales— chiefly from the south - west — which occasionally sweep across the island. Speaking generally, however, the climate of St Kilda is by no means rigorous—in consequence, no doubt, of the beneficial influences of the Gulf Stream, in the midst of which the island is situated. Martin describes the air as “ sharp and wholesome.” “The hills,” he says, “are often covered with ambient white mists, which in winter are forerunners of snow, if they continue on the tops of the hills; and in summer, if only on the tops, they prognosticate rain, and when they descend to the valleys, excessive heat. The night here, about the time of the summer solstice, exceeds not an hour in length, especially if the season is fair; then the sun disappears but for a short space, the reflex from the sea being all the time visible. The harvest and winter are liable to great winds and rain, the south-west v wind annoying them more than any other; it is commonly observed to blow from the west, for the most part of, if not all July.” He elsewhere gives an elaborate account of wind and weather prognostics, connected with the appearance of the sky and the character of the waves ; and mentions that the sea between St Kilda and the Long Island is most boisterous during the prevalence of a north wind. A terrific gale took place at St Kilda in January 1866; and Dr Macdonald refers to a hurricane that occurred on the 8th of July 1827, during his last visit to the island, when “ the billows rose mountains high, and dashed with fury against the lofty rocks.” He also states that when the sun happens to be obscured, the natives determine the time of day by the ebb and flow of the sea —“their knowledge of the tides depending upon the changes of the moon, which they likewise observe, and are very nice in it.” Mr Wilson pronounces the climate of St Kilda to be “extremely mild”—adding that the ice which is formed during the coldest winter night is scarcely thicker than a penny, and usually melts away, under the influence of the sun, in the course of the following day. Mr Macdiarmid, however, was told that snow sometimes falls so heavily as to bury the sheep, and that frost is occasionally severe.

The soil, according to Martin, is “very grateful to the labourer,” producing from sixteen to twenty fold. “Their grain,” he says, “is only bere and some oats; the barley is the largest produced in all the Western Isles. They use no plough, but a kind of crooked spade; their harrows are of wood, as are the teeth in front also, and all the rest supplied only with long tangles of sea-ware tied to the harrow by the small ends. . . . The chief ingredient in their composts is ashes of turf mixed with straw and urine. . . . They join also the bones, wings, and entrails of the sea-fowl to their straw. They sow very thick, and have a proportionable growth. They pluck all their bere by the roots in handfuls, both for the sake of their houses, which they thatch with it, and their cows, which they take in during the winter."

It appears from Macaulay’s account of the island that about eighty acres were under cultivation in 1758, in the immediate neighbourhood of the village. He refers to the fact of the soil being well manured and carefully pulverised, in accordance with the advice of Virgil, whose opinions he frequently quotes. He describes the quality of barley as excellent, and mentions that the harvest is usually over by the beginning of September. At the time of Mr Wilson’s visit, the arable land, fronting the village and within a large enclosure, was chiefly laid out in small rigs of barley, subdivided into about twenty portions, and belonging to a corresponding number of families. Besides these, there were eight smaller families not so portioned. In ordinary years, they were then believed to raise sufficient grain for their own consumption. The hill pastures were common—seven shillings being paid for each cow’s grazing, and one shilling for each sheep, above ten, annually. The caschrom, or spade-plough (referred to by Martin), was in ordinary use on Mr Mackenzie’s arrival in 1830,1 but he contrived to render the use of the English spade almost universal; and the introduction of drains nearly doubled the produce of the arable land. Mr Wilson further informs us that a few cabbages and potatoes grew in smaller enclosures, by courtesy called gardens, and that the minister had tried both carrots and onions with some success. “Turnips,” he says, “seem to thrive well for a time, but are speedily cut off by some kind of destructive insect; and peas and beans blossom, but produce no pods.”

In proportion to the number of inhabitants, the present quantity of arable land seems to be considerably less than at the middle of last century. Probably the total extent enclosed and under cultivation does not amount to forty acres—about an acre and a half for each family—but it could easily be doubled. The devotion of the islanders to the more profitable pursuit of fowling induces them to neglect farming operations. Mr Sands, however, makes special mention of the industry of the islanders in the matter of agriculture. “Every little spot of earth,” he says, “on the stony hills that will yield a crop is enclosed with a stone fence, and cultivated. And even where the soil is too thin to be productive in itself, it is artificially deepened, by shovelling on it the thin soil adjacent They preserve (he adds) the ashes of their turf fires for manure, mixing it with the entrails and carcases of fowls; . . . but they have not yet learned the value of fish-offal.” The crops which Mr Grigor saw in July 1861 consisted of bere, oats, and potatoes, and looked exceedingly well, having been much improved by the application of guano, which had been supplied to the inhabitants after the ravages of the storm of 3d October 1860, already referred to. A few drills of turnips came up well in the plot occupied by the catechist and registrar; and in other plots there were a few cabbages. A proper supply of vegetables would be a desirable addition to the diet of the inhabitants. The land under cultivation is enclosed by a stone fence, and occupies a gentle slope between the village and the foot of the hills. The rest of the island produces good green pasture, there being little or no heather or moss. The implements of husbandry are few and simple—spades, hoes, and picks being now in use; but there does not seem to be any desire on the part of the inhabitants to extend cultivation. In one of his recent letters in the ‘Scotsman,’ Mr Sands asserted, on the authority of some of the older inhabitants, that there had been no change of seed-corn for at least sixty years, and that the crops had greatly deteriorated. This, however, was distinctly contradicted, at a subsequent meeting relative to St Kilda, by one of the speakers, who mentioned that he had been the means of sending a fresh supply of seed about fifteen years ago; and further, that he was aware of potatoes having been supplied last year.

The plants enumerated by Martin as growing on the island are the following: dock, scurvy-grass, milfoil, shepherd’s purse, silverweed or argentine, plantain, sage, chick-weed, sorrel, all - hail or siderites (star-wort?), sea-pink, and tormentil or "scurf upon the stones,” which (he says) “has a drying and healing quality, and is likewise used for dyeing.” He adds that the St Kildans are “ignorant of the virtues of these herbs,” being thus unconscious of the truth announced by the Franciscan friar in “Romeo and Juliet”—

“O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities!”

As in many other parts of the Western Islands, large tracts of ground are carpeted with the delicately coloured sea-pink. Martin elsewhere states that “no sort of trees, no, not the least shrub, grows here, nor is ever a bee seen at any time.” Mr Mackenzie induced the inhabitants to plant two willow-trees in the churchyard; but if they still exist, I have no recollection of seeing them.

Mr Macdiarmid gives the following circumstantial account of the tillage and pastoral operations: “The soil is a fine black loam, resting on granite, and, by continued careful manuring and cleaning, looks quite like a garden. Yet with all this fine fertile appearance, the return it gives is miserable; and this can only be accounted for from the land never being allowed any rest under grass. The only crops grown are potatoes and oats, with a little bere. Within the remembrance of some of the older men, the returns were double, or nearly treble, of what they now are. . . . From a barrel of potatoes (about 2 cwt.), scarcely three barrels will be lifted. They require to sow the oats very thick—at the rate of from ten to twelve bushels to the acre—and the return is never above three times the quantity of seed sown; formerly it used to be six or seven times. I was shown some of the oats, but they were very small and thin, and thick in the husk. If possible, they avoid sowing home-grown seed, as it never gives a good return. Flails are the instruments used for separating the grain from the straw. The ground is all turned over with the spade, of which they have a number in very good order. . . . The land is harrowed with a sort of strong, roughly-made wooden hand-rake. They have iron ‘grapes’ for spreading their manure. The dung-pits are situated generally a few yards in front of the house, at the end of the patch of land, sunk a few feet in the ground,—rather convenient for being conveyed to the land, which is done by wooden creels or baskets. Saw no wheelbarrows; but there are one or two hand-barrows. They have sufficient manure for their land. Sometimes they gather a little sea-ware for manure; but there being no beach, it is not to be got in any great quantity. . . . Noticed one or two small enclosures planted with cabbages—not this year’s plants. Turnips were once grown rather successfully, but of late years they have not thriven. . . . The pasture-land is excellent, and forms as fine a sheep-run of its size as can be seen anywhere. ... I should say the grazing extent would be about one and a half times the size of Arthur’s Seat and the Queen’s Park, Edinburgh.. . . . Nothing is to be seen growing naturally on the island but grass, which I believe to be very nutritive. In some parts, last year’s grass was lying quite thick where it had not been eaten.”

Every visitor to St Kilda must have been struck by the large number of little dome-shaped stone buildings, resembling ovens, scattered all over the island and the adjacent islets, eight or ten feet in diameter, and from four to five feet in height, with a small doorway capable of admitting an ordinary person on all-fours. Their form is round when they occupy a level position on the summit of a hill, and oval when placed on a hillside. They are ingeniously constructed by gradually diminishing the courses of dry stone; affording a free current to the air at the sides, the top being closed by heavy stones, and protected from wet by a covering of turf. These are the “pyramids,” or cleits, referred to by Martin as being five hundred in number, and used for preserving various kinds of produce—sea-fowl, eggs, turf, hay, and corn. No attempt is made by the St Kildans to dry their grass or grain outside. Immediately after being cut, both are thrown loosely into these receptacles, and thus secured against all risk of injury from the weather—an example which might be prudently followed by many other Highland farmers.

It appears from Martin’s account that, at the end of the seventeenth century, the number of sheep in St Kilda and the adjacent islands amounted to about two thousand. “Generally,” he says, “they are speckled, some white, some philamort (dun ?), and of an ordinary size. They do not resemble goats in anything, as Buchanan was informed, except in their horns, which are extraordinarily large, particularly those in the lesser isles.” About one-fourth of the sheep were then fed on the island of Soa, “each of them having generally two or three lambs at a birth, and every lamb being so fruitful that it brings forth . a lamb before itself is a year old; ”thus reminding us of the flock referred to in the Song of Solomon, whereof every one bears twins, and none is barren among them.” These sheep, Martin further informs us, are never milked, “which disposes them to be the more prolific.” At the same period, the island of Borrera fed about four hundred sheep, and “would feed more, did not the solan geese pluck a large share of the grass for their nests." Macaulay also refers to the remarkable fecundity of the St Kilda sheep. He was informed that, in the course of thirteen months, a single sheep had been the means of adding nine to the flock. “She had brought three lambs in the month of March, three more in the same month the year after, and each of the first three had a young one before they had been thirteen months old.” Dean Monro describes the sheep of Hirta as “fairer and greater and larger-tailled than in any uther ile about;” while the Lord Register (Sir George M'Kenzie) says that they are “far different from all others, having long legs, long horns, and, instead of wool, a blewish hair upon them; for the figure and description they seem to approach in resemblance to the Ovis Chilensis."

According to Macculloch, “the breed of sheep is exclusively the Norwegian (now nearly extirpated elsewhere), distinguished by the extreme shortness of their tails; and the wool is both thin and coarse. They are occasionally of a dun colour; and are subject here, as well as in Iceland, to produce an additional number of horns. The mutton is peculiarly delicate, and highly flavoured. The cattle are small, and both the ewes and the cows are milked. The cheese, which is made of a mixture of these milks, is much esteemed, forming one of the prevailing articles of export to the Long Island, the mart in which all their little commerce centres.”

In Martin’s time, the number of horses did not exceed eighteen, “all of a red colour, very low and smooth skinned, being only employed in carrying their turf and corn, and at the anniversary cavalcade. The cows, which are about ninety head, small and great, all of them having their foreheads white and black, are of a low stature, but fat and sweet beef. The dogs, cats, and all the sea-fowl of this isle are speckled.” When Mr Wilson visited St Kilda in 1841, two or three small horses—originally imported to carry turf—still existed in St Kilda, but practically they were found to be of little use. The number of cows was then about fifty, of small size, but “yielding a delicious milk, which in the making of cheese is mingled with that of ewes.” The sheep, including those on Soa and Borrera, were about the same number as in Martin’s time, the Soa sheep being “chiefly of the Danish breed, with brown and black wool, and one or two more horns than the usual complement.” About twenty-five years ago, some specimens of sheep resembling those of St Kilda were to be seen at the home-farm of Abercairney, near Crieff. The Abercairney breed, which the proprietor procured in 1822, has generally been known by the name of “Barbary sheep;” and if not identical with those of St Kilda, they bore a striking resemblance to them.

In 1861, there were forty-three head of cattle and fifteen hundred sheep in the group of islands, of which all the cattle and nearly half of the sheep were in St Kilda. About five hundred sheep found pasture in Borrera, and three hundred in Soa. The latter of these islands was grazed by the families who emigrated to Australia in 1856; and when they left St Kilda, the stock was purchased by the proprietor, and was held in “steel-bow” by the other tenants—that is, they had to return their equivalent in quantity and quality at the end of the lease.

Mr Macdiarmid was unable to ascertain the number of sheep on the island at the time of his visit in May last, and estimates it at not less than four hundred. Mr Mackenzie, the factor for the proprietor, recently informed me at Dunvegan that the islanders are entitled to keep twelve hundred sheep and fifty head of cattle, and that, at present, they actually possess between a thousand and twelve hundred, but only admit having about the half of that number. The same tendency to conceal the actual number appears to have prevailed in the middle of last century. “The St Kildans,” says Macaulay, “have their own mysteries of state. In proportion to the number of sheep he possesses, every man must pay a certain heavy tax to the steward; . . . and, according to the laws of their land, every Hirta householder must pay to the person he calls his master every second he-lamb, every seventh fleece, and every seventh she-lamb.” The proprietor’s charge for a sheep’s grass on St Kilda is ninepence per head, and sixpence on the adjacent islands; and for a cow’s grass, seven shillings —the rates at Dunvegan being Jive shillings and three pounds respectively. The breed of sheep has already been improved by crossing; and Mr Mackenzie considers that, with good management, a much greater improvement might take place. Most of the sheep on St Kilda are white; the dun or native breed, which run wild, and are only caught at plucking time, being chiefly on the smaller islands. In appearance, the latter are something between sheep and fallow deer, with light-brown wool, long necks and legs, and short tails. It would appear that the sheep receive very little attention, and many of them are blown over the cliffs in seeking shelter from the storms. A system of mutual insurance, however, has long existed on the island, the owners of the lost sheep being indemnified by their neighbours in proportion to the number which the latter themselves possess. The smallest number owned by one man is eleven, and the largest one hundred and fifty. Mr Macdiarmid strongly condemns the present system of sheep-farming, under which every man has his own, and no two tenants the same number, instead of the flock being held in common, and the wool and carcases equally divided. He states that “the yeld sheep are plucked about the beginning of June, and the ewes about the middle of summer. They sell neither sheep nor wool. From two to five sheep are killed by each family for the winter’s supply, and the wool is made into blanketing and tweed, which they sell. They keep about twelve tups. . . . The breed of sheep may be called a cross between the old St Kilda breed and the blackfaced. . . . Nothing is applied to the sheep by way of smearing; and, so far as could be ascertained, they are quite free from scab and other skin diseases common to the class. The St Kildan should be initiated in the art of clipping his sheep; for plucking must be a sort of cruelty to the animals.” He considers that, by proper management, the number might be doubled; and that, instead of levying a payment on each head, the proprietor ought to receive a fixed rent for pasturage. The sheep are said to be very fat in autumn when killed, in consequence of the fine quality of the pasture; and the mutton that was presented to Mr Macdiarmid and his friends for dinner “would favourably compare, in flavour and quality, with the best-fed blackfaced.” The islanders consume a great deal of mutton at certain periods, as no sheep are exported.

The total number of cows and other cattle—including a brindled bull—at present on the island is about fifty, of the West Highland breed, chiefly black, or red and black in colour, and all in very good condition. Mr Macdiarmid estimates the average value of the young cattle, on the mainland, at £5, 15s. per head,—and about £3 per head—the rate paid by the factor in 1875—if purchased on the island. There are now no horses within its bounds. The older inhabitants, however, remember when some of the crofters had as many as four or five ponies. It is reported that a lessee of the island, about thirty years ago, shipped them all away, on the pretext of their being destructive to the grass! There are numerous dogs—a mongrel breed of collie—used for fowling purposes, as well as by the shepherds. A cat is to be seen in almost every cottage, the mouse being the only wild animal on the island, and rats are still unknown. According to Mr Macdiarmid, there are only two hens in St Kilda. It has been suggested that a few goats might be appropriately introduced; and perhaps the rabbit also might form a useful addition to the fare of the St Kildan. The experience of the inhabitants of Barra, however, is not very encouraging—the destruction of the crops having been the result of the importation of rabbits into that island.

At the date of Dr Macculloch’s visit (1815), the rental of St Kilda appears to have amounted to only ^40. In 1841, Mr Wilson was told that it was about £60; and twenty years later, the three islands were entered in the Valuation Roll of Inverness-shire at £100. From £90 to £ 100 is stated to be the annual revenue derived by the present proprietor; but, in some quarters, an impression appears to prevail that he receives a considerably larger return. The rents are paid in kind, consisting chiefly of feathers, oil, cloth, cattle, cheese, and barley. The oil is extracted from the stomach of the fulmar, and is eagerly purchased by the farmers of Skye for smearing purposes.

When Mr Wilson visited St Kilda, each family was bound to furnish about twenty-three pecks of barley annually; which failing, an additional supply of feathers. The quantity of the latter which the entire nation required to supply was 240 stones (of 24 lb. each?)—the rugged cliffs, in the language of the poet, thus “ turning to beds of down.” Sixteen families, constituting the present “crofters,” pay rent, while the rest of the inhabitants are only “cottars,” each possessing a few sheep. The annual charge for each croft and cottage is £2. The present rents were fixed by Mr Norman M'Raild, the factor for the late proprietor, each tenant being credited with a certain number of sheep; and they have not been altered since the change in the ownership. Accordingly, in some cases tenants may be paying for too many, and in others for too few sheep. Mr Macdiarmid states that “it is impossible to arrive at the actual value given to the proprietor. None of the men keep an account of the quantity of produce they give to the factor, and the amount of goods they take in return. They have great confidence in Mr Mackenzie, who, they say, is just and generous, and easy to deal with. . . . They are never pressed for arrears; and, so far as could be made out, they are contented with their lot, and consider that they are very fairly dealt with. They are very much attached to their island home ; and there is no inclination to emigrate. They speak of their landlord, Macleod, in the very best terms, and consider themselves very fortunate in being under his guardianship; and I must say that I did not hear one single word or expression implying want of confidence or distrust in his dealings with them.” Mr Macdiarmid refers to the unsuccessful attempt made by a recent visitor—I presume Mr Sands—to induce the islanders to carry their produce to the Long Island or the mainland, and to discontinue the system of barter which has so long prevailed. It appears that the minister (Mr M'Kay) strongly objected to the proposed change, reminding his flock that, in dispensing with Macleod’s assistance, they might expose themselves to risk and danger. A document was sent to the island by the proprietor calling upon all who wished to adhere to the exist-ing system to give in their names; and ultimately, the minister succeeded in getting a clause inserted in a formal agreement between the owner and his tenants, granting them permission, if they thought proper, to go to the mainland, with the view of selling their produce and buying such commodities as they might wish. This fair and reasonable arrangement appears to have given perfect satisfaction to all the islanders.

As already indicated, the principal exports are feathers, oil, cloth, catde, cheese, and barley. The price paid by the present factor for feathers is, per stone of 24 lb., five shillings for grey, and six shillings for black feathers, which it appears can be sold in Edinburgh or Glasgow at from seven to eight shillings per stone. For fulmar-oil the islanders receive one shilling per Scotch pint, or about two shillings per imperial gallon.4 On a recent occasion, the factor brought away fourteen barrels of oil, each containing about thirty gallons. The quantity of cloth—tweeds and blanketing—sold by each family ranges between 12 and 80 yards. For the former, they receive two shillings and sixpence; and for the latter, about two shillings and threepence per Scotch ell or “ big yard ” = 4 feet 1 inch. The tweed, which is of a natural, drab colour, is sold by the factor at four shillings per English yard, which certainly appears to constitute a liberal profit. The price paid for cattle has already been indicated. The islanders are able annually to dispose of not more than four stones (24 lb. each) of cheese, of a fair quality, chiefly made from sheep’s milk, for which they receive six shillings and sixpence per stone. As they have no churns, butter is very rarely made by them. In Mr Mackenzie’s time, they sometimes attempted the process by placing the milk in a wooden dish, or “ noggin,” and shaking the vessel up and down until butter was produced. Another plan is to pour the milk into a pail, and put it in motion by the use of the hands. I have no information as to the price paid to them for barley. Tallow and salted ling are among their other occasional exports—the former bringing from seven to eight shillings per stone, and the latter sevenpence each, the proprietor supplying the salt free.

In 1875, the factor paid the islanders upwards of £40 for fish, last year about £6, and in the current year nothing at all, which he regards as an indication of their now being comparatively independent, and unwilling to undergo the labour and hardship which fishing involves.

Mr Macdiarmid gives the following list of imports, with the respective prices charged during the last few years:—

The following have been the highest and lowest prices of some of the above-mentioned articles, in the Edinburgh market, during the last two years :—


During each of the past three years, the proprietor’s smack, the “Robert Hadden,” a craft of 62 tons, has made from one to three trips to the island. She went thrice in 1875; only once in 1876, in consequence of unfavourable weather; and at the time of my visit in the beginning of July, she had been twice since the spring, with a third trip in prospect. Mr Mackenzie, the factor, resides at Dunvegan, in Skye, and generally goes only once a-year to St Kilda. This year he accompanied the smack on her second voyage, and remained for about a week on the island. One of the inhabitants acts as his local representative in the capacity of sub-factor, his designation in Gaelic being maor, or ground - officer. The present functionary is Neil Ferguson, who, by the way, has a handsome profile and otherwise a good physique. The factor for the late proprietor, Sir John Macpherson Macleod, who also resided in Skye, paid a yearly visit to St Kilda, in May or June, and remained for a good many weeks, receiving the feathers and other articles already specified. He usually took with him meal, tea, sugar, salt, clothing, etc., for the use of the inhabitants, in fulfilment of commissions given the preceding year. In 1853, he was obliged to spend several months on the island, in consequence of the vessel which was sent for him not having been able to accomplish the voyage; and it was only in April of the following year that he succeeded in reaching Skye. Seven years later (i860), the expected craft was lost, with its entire cargo, in the east bay; and Mr M'Raild would have been again detained on the island but for the arrival of H.M.S. “Porcupine,” which conveyed him to his home.

It appears from Dean Monro’s brief notice of Hirta that a similar visitation took place towards the end of the sixteenth century. He states that “the inhabitants thereof ar simple poor people, scarce learnit in aney religion; bot M'Cloyd of Herray, his stewart, sailes anes in the zeir ther at midsummer, with some chaplaine to baptize bairnes ther, and if they want a chaplaine, they baptize ther bairnes themselfes. The said stewart, as he himself tauld me, uses to take ane maske of malt ther with a masking fatt, and makes his malt, and ere the fatt be ready, the commons of the town, baith men, weemen, and bairns, puts their hands in the fatt, and findis it sweeit, and eets the greyns after the sweeitness thereof, quhilk they leave nather wirt or draff unsuppit out ther, quharwith baith men, weemen, and bairns were deid drunken, sua that they could not stand upon their feet The said stewart receives their dewties in miell and reisted (salted) mutton, wyld foullis reisted, and selchis ” (seals).

At the time of Martin’s visit, the factor or “steward” was one Alexander Macleod. “Upon his arrival,” says our author, “he and his retinue—consisting of about fifty persons—have all the milk of the isle bestowed upon them in a treat,”—a second such treat, in which Martin himself participated, taking place on St Columba’s Day, the 15th of June. After stating that “the steward lives upon the charge of the inhabitants until the time that the solan geese are ready to fly, which the inhabitants think long enough,” Martin gives some detailed information relative to the daily allowance made by the inhabitants in proportion to their respective holdings, and also regarding their rigid adherence to ancient laws and measures. At that period, in the absence of the steward, the St Kildans were governed by a meijre, or officer, nominated by the former, of whose duties and jurisdiction Martin furnishes a curious account. Besides some acres of land in return for his services, the steward gave the officer “the bonnet worn by himself on his going out of the island;” while the steward’s wife left with the officer’s wife her kerch, or head-dress, and also an ounce of indigo. On the other hand, the officer was bound to present to the steward, at every meal, a large cake of barley, “sufficient to satisfy three men at a time,” and also to furnish him with mutton or beef for dinner “every Sunday during his residence in the island.”

When Macaulay visited St Kilda in 1758, the proprietor had given a lease of the island to a cadet of his own family, at a yearly rent of about £11; and the predecessors of that lessee had enjoyed the same privilege for three generations. This steward, he states, required to be “at the annual expense of fitting out a large Highland boat to bring his grain, feathers, or any commodities he bought from the people to Harris, where he generally resided. It must be confessed that the voyages made by him thither were attended with some danger. In former times,” he adds, “the principal persons of this little commonwealth came yearly in their own boat to Dunvegan, the proprietor’s chief seat, and brought the small taxes they had to pay.”

From Lord Brougham’s ‘Autobiography’ it appears that, forty years later, the steward, or tacksman, paid two visits yearly to the island, “ to plunder, under the name of Macleod's factor. He pays only £20 sterling to Macleod, and makes above twice as much himself. For this purpose, all the milk of cows is brought into his dairy from May-day to Michaelmas, and all the ewes’ milk together for the whole year. Every second lamb-ram and every seventh ewe go to the same quarter,—and this sanctified to his use under the name of a tenth. The rest of the rent is made up in feathers, at the rate of 3s. per stone, and the tacksman sells them in the Long Island for 10s. He is quite absolute in dispensing justice; punishes crimes by fines, and makes statutes of his own account, which are implicitly obeyed. . . . There is no money current here—nothing like barter— and the rate of assessing the rent to Macleod is the only criterion of the prices of articles. According to this, we found that a fat sheep is valued at 3s. 6d., a cow at 30s., a horse at 20s., barley at 16s. per boll, and potatoes at 3s. per barrel, which may contain about eight pecks.” In referring to the purchase of St Kilda by Colonel Macleod from the heir of the ancient owners, a few years after Lord Brougham’s visit, Macdonald, in his *Agriculture of the Hebrides,’ indirectly alludes to the same system of pillage, describing the transference as “a blessing to the inhabitants, who are no longer fleeced to the skin, but encouraged to industry.” In a subsequent chapter I shall venture to make a few remarks on the relative position of the islanders and their present lord.


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