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St. Kilda, Past and Present
Chapter IX. - Sea-birds and Cragsmen


IF the human population of St Kilda is somewhat sparse, during eight or nine months of the year every island and stack in the group is tenanted by myriads of feathered inhabitants, which impart no small amount of life and bustle to what would otherwise be a desolate and lonely scene. It is, of course, impossible to indicate an approximation to the number of the various kinds of sea-fowl which annually occupy the beetling cliffs; and even with the king of birds as registrar-general, and a select staff of sharp-eyed falcons as enumerators, an ornithological census of these islands would probably prove a very arduous task!

Macculloch refers to Swift’s description of a land of feathers in his ‘Tale of a Tub,’ but as I have failed to find the passage, I must content myself with his own account of one of the special characteristics of St Kilda. “The air,” he says, “is full of feathered animals, the sea is covered with them, the houses are ornamented by them, the ground is speckled with them like a flowery meadow in May. The town is paved with feathers, the very dunghills are made of feathers, the ploughed land seems as if it had been sown with feathers, and the inhabitants look as if they had been all tarred and feathered, for their hair is full of feathers, and their clothes are covered with feathers. The women look like feathered Mercuries, for their shoes are made of a gannet’s skin; everything smells of feathers, and the smell pursued us all over the islands —for the captain had concealed a sack-full in the cabin.” The same writer, in his notice of the Flannan islands, makes some interesting observations on the harmony of the sea-birds, for the introduction of part of which I think it unnecessary to offer any apology. “I have often been entertained,” he says, “with the extraordinary concerts of the sea-fowl in Ailsa, the Shiant islands and elsewhere; but I never heard any orchestra so numerous, so various, and so perfect as this one, which seemed to consist of almost all the birds that frequent the seas and rocks of these wild coasts. I should perhaps do injustice to the performers, did I attempt to assign the parts which each seemed to take in this concert: but it was easy to distinguish the short, shrill treble of the puffins and auks, the molodious and varied notes of the different gulls, the tenors of the divers and guillemots, and the croaking basses of the cormorants. But the variety of tones was far beyond my power of analysis, as I believe Pennant had found it before me. It may appear ludicrous to call this music melodious, or to speak of the harmony formed by such ingredients: yet it is a combination of sounds to which a musician will listen with interest and delight, although the separate cries of the different individuals are seldom thought agreeable. Few of the notes in this concert could perhaps have been referred to the scale, if separately examined; yet the harmony was often as full and perfect as if it had been the produce of well-tuned instruments, and the effect was infinitely superior to that which is often heard in a spring morning among the singing birds of the forest, while it was so entirely different as not to admit of any comparison.” After alluding to the special characteristics in the notes of the cuckoo, nightingale, thrush, and other songsters of the grove, he goes on to say that “ in the sea-birds there are few tones and few notes, but they are decided and steady. The body of sound is also far greater; and, however inferior in variety or sweetness the notes of the individuals may be, there is much more variety in the harmonious combinations, and in that which musicians would call the contrivance and design. Very often they remind me of some of the ancient religious compositions, which consist of a perpetual succession of fugue and imitation on a few simple notes; and sometimes it appeared as if different orchestras were taking up the same phrases. ... I will not say that the gulls, the auks, the gannets, and the cormorants will compete for the palm of music with Haydn’s ‘Chaos,’ or with the solemn and wild strain of extraordinary and superhuman harmonies with which the ghost first addresses Don Giovanni: but the educated musician who shall choose to attend to these marine symphonies will find that modern inventions have unwittingly been only following nature, and may thence borrow valuable hints for his own art.”

In the course of my insular rambles, I have more than once been struck by the wild and curious music of the feathered orchestras — particularly at the little island of Handa, off the west coast of Sutherlandshire, and at the wonderful “Noss” of Bressay, in Shetland. During a visit to the former, about eight years ago, I ascertained that its cliffs were tenanted by not fewer than twelve different kinds of sea-fowl, including the razor-bill, kitti-wake, puffin, sea-swallow, and oyster-catcher, besides several species of gulls, guillemots, and cormorants. All these, I believe, with the fulmar and solan in addition— and probably three or four other species—are to be found in the St Kilda group. Captain Macdonald of the “Vigilant” cutter informed me, on our return voyage, that he thinks the sea-birds are not quite so numerous as when he first visited St Kilda several years ago; but this does not appear to be the impression of the islanders themselves. It is difficult to convey the very faintest idea of their countless number. When coasting along the rugged shores in the “Dunara,” besides the occasional discharge of two fowling-pieces, a small gun was fired in the immediate proximity of one of the most densely animated cliffs; and without going the length of asserting that the sky was actually darkened by the myriads of wings set in motion by the report as it echoed from rock to rock, I can honestly declare that the cobalt of the heavens was at least partially concealed by a canopy of feathery clouds. In disputing the accuracy of the popular assertion relative to the interception of light by an infinite multitude of sea-birds, Mr Wilson poetically compares them to “ the spray of sparkling waters, or the mild effulgence of the milky way, . . . shining with a pearly lustre, pure as ‘the bolted snow.’”

Apropos to the harmony of the sea-fowl, Martin mentions that two distinct cries—grog, grog, and birbir— are uttered by the sentinel of the solan geese under different circumstances. Mr Wilson being curious, as an ornithologist, to ascertain the truth of this statement, paid particular attention to the matter during his visit to St Kilda; and he solemnly asserts that he distinctly heard a voice giving utterance to the words grog, grog, “but whether it came from the solan geese or the sailors, still remains to be proved. The other monosyllable bir, bir (pronounced beer, beer), was also heard frequently, but almost always in the earlier portion of the day, especially during the prevalence of warm weather! ” From the dictation of one of the islanders, Mr Sands wrote down the following cries of four of the principal birds, that of the puffin being of a peculiarly mournful and melancholy tone:—

Solan goose—“Gorrok! beero! hurro boo! ”
Scraber—“Kickogoo, hoo! kickogoo, hoo!”
Puffin—“Oh! oh! oh! oh! ” (ad infinitum.)
Fulmar—“Ok! ok! ok! ok! ” (allegro?)

Independently of the friendship that existed between Thomson and Mallet, the tragedy of “ Alfred ” was their joint production; and it is somewhat curious that both poets, in their individual compositions, devote several graphic lines to the transmigration and other habits of the sea-birds of the Western Islands. The following passage occurs towards the middle of Thomson’s “Autumn,” after a reference to the annual departure of the swallow and the stork :—

“Or where the northern ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule, and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides;
Who can recount what transmigrations there
Are annual made? what nations come and go?
And how the living clouds on clouds arise?
Infinite wings ! till all the plume-dark air,
And rude resounding shore are one wild cry.
Here the plain harmless native his small flock,
And herd diminutive of many hues,
Tends on the little island’s verdant swell,
The shepherd’s sea-girt reign; or, to the rocks
Dire-clinging, gathers his ovarious food;
Or sweeps the fishy shore; or treasures up
The plumage, rising full, to form the bed
Of Luxury.”

In like manner, the author of “Amyntor and Theodora” thus discourses of the feathered tribes in his first canto :—

“But high above the season full exerts
Its vernant force in yonder peopled rocks,
To whose wild solitude, from worlds unknown,
The birds of passage transmigrating come,
Unnumbered colonies of foreign wing,
At Nature’s summons their aerial state
Annual to found, and in bold voyage steer
O’er this wide ocean, through yon pathless sky,
One certain flight to one appointed shore,
By heaven’s directive spirit here to raise
Their temporary realm, and form secure,
Where food awaits them copious from the wave,
And shelter from the rock, their nuptial leagues;
Each tribe apart, and all on tasks of love,
To hatch the pregnant egg, to rear and guard
Their helpless infants, piously intent.”

Again, towards the end of the poem, he alludes to the movements and music of the birds during the glory of an Atlantic sunset:—

“Above, around, in cloudy circles wheeled,
Or sailing level on the polar gale
That cool with evening rose, a thousand wings,
The summer nations of these pregnant cliffs,
Played sportive round, and to the sun outspread
Their various plumage, or in wild notes hailed.
His parent-beam that animates and cheers
All living kinds: he, glorious from amidst
A pomp of golden clouds, the Atlantic flood
Beheld oblique, and o’er its azure breast
Waved one unbounded blush ; a scene to strike
Both ear and eye with wonder and delight! "

The St Kilda land-birds enumerated by Martin are, the hawk, eagle, plover, crow, wren, stone-chaker (stone-chat or wheat-ear), craker (corn-crake), and cuckoo, the last being very rarely seen, and that only on extraordinary occasions, “such as the death of the proprietor Mack-Leod, the steward’s death, or the arrival of some notable stranger!” When our author expressed his incredulity respecting this belief on the part of the natives, they were astounded by his want of faith, and on appealing to the steward, he at once confirmed the truth of the allegation. Two sons of a distinguished living ornithologist accompanied the party in the “Dunara Castle;” but I am not aware that either of them was able to detect the sound of the “magic” note! In his larger work, Martin describes the hawks of St Kilda as the finest in the Western Isles, adding that “ they go many leagues for their prey, there being no land-fowl in St Kilda proper for them to eat, except pigeons and plovers.” Both the peregrine falcon and the kestrel are to be found on its shores. He also speaks of a couple of large eagles having a nest at the north end of the island, respecting which the inhabitants informed him that “ they commonly make their purchase (depreciation) in the adjacent isles and continent, and never take so much as a lamb or hen from the place of their abode, where they propagate their kind.” Besides several of the birds specified by Martin, Macaulay mentions the raven (“of the largest sort”), heron, curlew, magpie (very rare in other parts of the Hebrides) pigeon, starling, lark, and sparrow. Next to the sea-fowl, the starling is probably the most common bird in St Kilda. Whether such small birds as wrens and sparrows reach the island by their own efforts or with the aid of boats, he leaves “undetermined;” and with regard to the herons — “the most watchful fowls in the world” — he says that their capture by the St Kildans, “by dint of stalking,” may perhaps be hardly credited, “though the fact seems to be very well attested.” He partially confirms Martin’s statement relative to the eagles being perfectly harmless on the island, and conjectures that this may arise from their necessities being more than supplied, at least in summer, by the inexhaustible stores of eggs which fall in their way. In winter, he presumes that they must make frequent excursions to the neighbouring isles. At present, the eagle is not to be found at St Kilda. Mr Wilson saw no sparrows; but, in addition to the birds mentioned by Martin and Macaulay, he enumerates the hooded crow, thrush, blackbird (an occasional visitant), corn-bunting, twite, and two species of titlark. There are no grouse or other game birds; but the minister informed Mr Wilson that, on a winter day, he once saw a single ptarmigan on the hillside, after the prevalence of strong easterly winds. The snipe remains all the year round. Towards the close of the year, wild geese, mire-ducks, and a few straggling swans sometimes make their appearance on the island; and occasionally birds with foreign plumage find their way to its lonely shores.

Eight years ago (24th June 1869), An Act for the Preservation of Sea-Birds was passed, which is known in statutory language as 32 & 33 Vic., cap 17. Section 1 enumerates 32 different species as included under the term “sea-birds” — viz., auk, bonxie, Cornish chough, coulterneb, diver, eider - duck, fulmar, gannet, grebe, guillemot, gull, kittiwake, loon, marrot, merganser, murre, oyster-catcher, petrel, puffin, razor-bill, scout, sea-mew, sea-parrot, sea-swallow, shearwater, shelldrake, skua, smew, solan goose, tarrock, terntystey, and willock. Of these, however, the coulterneb and sea-parrot, the gannet and solan goose, the guillemot and marrot, the gull and sea-mew, and the murre and razor-bill, are respectively one and the same species. Section 2 defines the period —four months—within which these sea-birds are not to be slaughtered—viz., from 1st April to 1st August; and imposes a penalty of one pound on every contravener of the enactment. The 8th clause declares that the operation of the Act “shall not extend to the island of St Kilda," the cause of the exemption being indicated in the 9th and concluding section—to wit, “ the necessities of the inhabitants.” As stated in a previous chapter, many a long day is likely to elapse before the inhabitants of the remote island will enjoy the ordinary legal protection of her Majesty’s lieges; and, on the other hand, if the exemption in question had not been made, it would not have been a very easy matter to have convicted a St Kildan of a breach of the statute.

Nearly all the sea-fowl of St Kilda belong to three of the five families of the order of Palmipedes, or web-footed birds—viz., Alcadce, or auks; Pelicanidee, or pelicans; and Laridce, or gulls. I have been unable to compile a complete list, but have reason to believe that the following are to be found on the group of islands :—

In addition to these seventeen birds, at least two others occur — viz., the eider-duck (Somateria mollissima), belonging to another family (Anatidce) of the same order, and the oyster - catcher (Hcematopus ostralegus), pertaining to the order Grallatores, or waders. “Every fowl,” says Martin, “ lays a single egg three different times (except the gairfowl and fulmar, which lay but once); if the first or second egg be taken away, every fowl lays but one other egg that year, except the sea-malls, and they ordinarily lay the third egg, whether the first and second eggs be taken away or no.” In alluding to the instinct and sagacity of the various sea-birds, he elsewhere observes: “So powerful is their oTopyy, or natural affection for their offspring, that they choose rather to die upon the egg or fowl than escape with their own lives (which they could do in a minute), and leave either of these to be destroyed.” Of the trilichan, or sea-pie, he says that it is cloven-footed, and “ consequently swims not. If it comes in the beginning of May, it is a sign of a good summer; if later, the contrary is observed.”

The following is a list of the sea-birds specified by Martin as occurring on the St Kilda group, with the dates of their arrival and departure :—

The memoranda of the Rev. Neil M'Kenzie embrace numerous references to the habits of the various sea-fowl. “All the birds,” he says, “are so regular in the time of leaving and coming, laying and hatching, that a kind of calendar might be constructed from their migrations,” in forcible illustration of the language of Scripture, “Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming.” He also informs us that all the different kinds of sea-fowl are to be found on the islands by the month of April, and that the following month (May)—during which almost all the birds lay their eggs —is by far the most important season in the year to the fowler. Macaulay states that, on the arrival of the principal birds, “the most considerable persons in this small state assemble together to congratulate one another on the great occasion.” . Most of the feathered inhabitants leave the cliffs during August and September. By November, the rocks are almost entirely deserted; and for about three months the islands present a lonely and desolate appearance.

Some special remarks seem to be called for respecting a few of the principal birds of St Kilda; and my title warrants the assignment of the place of honour to a “ thing of the past,” the extinct Garefowl or Great Auk, which Martin pronounces to be “ the stateliest as well as the largest of all the fowls in the island,” and which appears to have recently excited great interest among naturalists. In his valuable work on the ‘ Birds of the West of Scotland,’ Mr Gray recapitulates all that appears to have been written regarding the garefowl. With respect to the etymology of the name—garefowl or gairfowl — Jamieson defines both gare and gair as “keen or rapacious,” which may perhaps have been characteristic of its nature. Various writers, however, seem to regard it as identical with the geirfugl or geyr-fugl’1 formerly common in Iceland and other high latitudes, from which it may have found its way to St Kilda. Influenced, no doubt, by a recollection of the proverb “ rara avis in terris',' Macaulay suggests that the men of Hirta may perhaps have conferred the appellation of garefowl on the great auk as a corruption of rarefowl, “a name,” he adds, “ probably given to it by some one of those foreigners, whom either choice or necessity drew into the secure region ” ! The author of the * Agriculture of the Hebrides,’ in his brief notice of St Kilda, refers to this remarkable bird under the unpronounceable Gaelic name of bunnab/iuac/iaille.

Martin describes the garefowl as “ above the size of a solan goose, of a black colour, red about the eyes, a large white spot under each eye, a long broad bill; stands stately, his whole body erected; his wings short. He flyeth not at all, lays his egg upon the bare rock, which, if taken away, he lays no more for that year. He ispalmipes, or whole-footed, and has the hatching-spot upon his breast —i.e., a bare spot from which the feathers have fallen off with the heat in hatching. His egg is twice as big as that of a solan goose, and is variously spotted black, green, and dark.”

Whether Martin actually saw the garefowl does not positively appear, but his detailed description seems to indicate that his information was at least derived from the personal observation of others. Macaulay admits that he “ had not an opportunity of knowing the very curious fowl, sometimes seen on the coast of St Kilda,” but his notice of the bird seems to be worthy of transcription. “It is,” he says, “ above four feet in length, from the bill to the extremities of its feet; its wings are, in proportion to its size, very short, so that they can hardly poise or support the weight of its very large body. Its legs, neck, and bill, are extremely long. It lays the egg (which, according to the account given me, exceeds that of a goose, no less than the latter exceeds the egg of a hen), close by the sea-mark, being incapable, on account of its bulk, to soar up to the cliffs. It makes its appearance in the month of July. The St Kildans do not receive an annual visit from this strange bird as from all the rest in the list, and from many more. It keeps at a distance from them, they know not where, for a course of years. From what land or ocean it makes its uncertain voyages to their isle is perhaps a mystery.” The wings of the great auk appear to have been so short as to bear the character of paddles, thus resembling the penguin, of which it was the northern representative. It laid its solitary egg—about five inches long and three inches at the greatest breadth—on the bare rock, without any nest.

Little more than fifty years ago the great auk appears to have regularly visited the island of Papa Westray, in Orkney, where, about the year 1812, Mr Bullock had the gratification of chasing a widowed male bird for several hours in a six-oared boat, the speed of which was entirely eclipsed by that of the auk. According to Wilson, “its powers of swimming and diving probably exceeded those of any other species of the feathered race.” Shortly after Mr Bullock’s departure, the object of his pursuit was secured by the native boatmen, and is now preserved, in excellent condition, at the British Museum. Another live specimen, captured off St Kilda by the tacksman of the island of Scalpa, in Harris, was seen there by Dr Fleming in the year 1821. While being indulged with a swim in the sea, restrained by a cord fastened to one leg, it contrived to escape from a subsequent owner. A former tacksman of St Kilda (M'Neill) informed Professor Mac-gillivray that the bird occurred in that island “ at irregular intervals of two or three years,” but no recent visitor appears to have obtained any trustworthy particulars regarding its existence in that quarter. Mr Elwes, who was at St Kilda in 1868, made particular inquiries there and elsewhere respecting the great auk, without eliciting any information.

Unsuccessful inquiries appear to have been also made in Greenland be found in Dr Fleming’s ‘ History of British Animals,’ and accurate representations of it are given in the works of Audubon, Wilson, Jardine, and other ornithologists. In 1871, Mr Gray estimated the value of a specimen at not less than 100, but it is now probably very much greater; and at an auction in London, in 1865, four eggs of the great auk were sold at prices ranging from ^29 to 33. Their present value is said to be not less than from 50 to 60. Admirably manufactured forgeries of the eggs have been offered for sale within the last few years. It has been ascertained that there are thirty-four specimens of the auk and forty-two eggs in different parts of the world. The eggs vary in size, colour, and markings, some being of a silvery-white, and others of a yellowish-white ground—the spots and streaks also differing in form and colour. One of the four eggs in the possession of Mr Champley is five inches one line long, three inches wide, and thirty-eight scruples fifteen grains in weight Martin’s description of the colour of the auk is only correct so far as it goes. The upper surface of the body is black, except a patch of pure white, round and in front of the eye, and the ends of the secondaries, which are also white. All the under surface is white, and in winter the chin and throat assumed the same colour. Several valuable contributions relative to the great auk have recently been made to the ‘Ibis’ by Professor Newton of Cambridge, who fondly cherishes the belief that the interesting bird may not, after all, be actually extinct; and cannot, accordingly, persuade himself to address it in the tender words of Milton, some of which, at least, are sufficiently applicable :—

“Aye me  whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
Wash far away, where’er thy bones are hurled,
Whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
Where thou, perhaps, under the whelming tide,
Visit’st the bottom of the monstrous world ;
Or whether thou, to our moist vows denied,
Sleep’st by the fable of Bellerus old,
Where the great vision of the guarded mount
Looks towards Namancos, and Bayona’s hold.”

The general impression of ornithologists, however, as already indicated, is that the garefowl, like the dodo, has entirely passed away, and that his abode knows him no more, while the winds and the waves chant his requiem.

The only existing sea-birds of St Kilda to which I intend specially to refer are the solan goose or gannet, the fulmar, and the puffin.

The Solan goose, Spectacle goose, or Gannet, frequents the islets and stacks adjacent to St Kilda, but not the island itself, thus exhibiting the opposite characteristic of the rook and some other birds, which seem to prefer the proximity of human habitations. Its favourite haunt is Stack Ly or Leath—already referred to—in the immediate vicinity of Borrera, which, as a breeding-place for the solan goose, Mr Wilson pronounces “one of the wonders of the world.” Not only the top of the stack, but every crack and crevice all around is tenanted by sea-fowl, chiefly gannets. The minister informed him that “ although he himself could not perceive the slightest diminution of their amount, it consisted with his knowledge that fifteen thousand had been captured and carried off within the last few weeks.” Like most of the other sea-fowl, the gannets are accompanied on their arrival by a considerable number of barren birds, which have no nests, and sit upon the bare rock, at a distance from their mated kinsfolk, with whom they do not interfere. It has been suggested that these separatists might be young birds; but Mr Wilson states that in the case of the solan geese this was proved not to be so, the plumage being that of the adult bird. Accordingly, the same author observes that they were probably “bachelors and old maids! ” Martin states that the solan goose “equals a tame goose in bigness. It is by measure, from the tip of the bill to the extremity of the foot, thirty-four inches long, and to the end of the tail thirty-nine; the wings extended very long, there being seventy-two inches of distance betwixt the extreme tips. Its bill is long, straight, of a dark colour, a little crooked at the point; behind the eyes, the skin of the side of the head is bare of feathers; the ears of a mean size; the eyes hazel-coloured. It hath four toes; the feet and legs black as far as they are bare : the plumage is like that of a goose. The colour of the old ones is white all over, excepting the extreme tips of the wings, which are black, and the top of the head, which is yellow, as some think the effect of age. The young ones are of a dark-brown colour, turning white after they are a year old. Its egg, somewhat less than that of a land goose, small at each end, casts a thick scurf, and has little or no yolk. . . . The solan geese hatch by turns.” The name Solan is said by some to be a corruption of Solent, an old designation of the English Channel; while, according to others, the bird derives its name from the Gaelic word siller (from sill, an eye), which indicates sharpness of sight—qui oculis irretortis e longinquo respicit pradam. He soars in mid-air, flying slowly up the wind, and balancing himself upon expanded wings till he sees his prey, on which he darts down with unerring precision and incredible force. The herring-fishers sometimes amuse themselves by fixing a fish upon a board sufficiently loaded to float a little below the surface of the sea. On observing the herring, the solan pounces down upon it with so much energy that he perforates the board with his bill, and falls an easy prey to the fishermen. The principal food of the solan goose consists of whiting, haddock, pilchard, mackerel, and herring.1 Martin says that “ when it returns from its fishing, it carries along with it five or six herrings in its gorget, all entire and undigested, upon whose arrival at the nest, the hatching fowl puts its head in the fisher’s throat, and pulls out the fish with its bill as with a pincer, and that with very great noise; which I had occasion frequently to observe.” The nest, which is strong and deep, is made of various materials—grass, turf, sorrel, branches, sea-weed, rags, shavings, etc.— whatever the old birds come across by land or by sea; and it is asserted that they never gather grass but on a windy day, which is the solan’s “vacation from fishing.” Martin states, on the authority of the steward of St Kilda, that a red coat had been found in one nest, and a brass sun-dial, an arrow, and some Molucca beans in another! Failing a supply of suitable materials, the solan does not hesitate, if he gets a chance, to steal from the nest of a neighbour; and the same author gives a graphic account of a “bloody battle” between two gannets, consequent upon a transgression of the eighth commandment. According to Mr Gray, the flight of the St Kilda gannets cannot be much short of two hundred miles in one day, without reckoning the distance traversed while they are engaged in fishing; and he inclines to think that fatigue sometimes compels them to discontinue their journeys. They seldom fly over land, generally making a circuit when they meet with a promontory or island. As in the case of the garefowl, the place whence they come in spring, and whither they go in autumn, is not well known. They direct their course southwards, and are occasionally met with at the mouths of the Tagus and Guadiana. The young solan, or gong, is fit for use in September, if the first egg is left untouched—otherwise, about a month later. As at the Bass, it is slaughtered by blows on the head with a stick. The flesh has a somewhat fishv flavour, but when baked makes a tolerably palatable dish.1 Before the bird is able to fly it is larger than its mother, and excessively fat—a most precocious baby—the fat on the breast being sometimes as much as three inches deep. “The inhabitants of Hirta,” says Macaulay, “have a method of preserving their grease in a kind of bag, made of the stomach of the old solan goose, caught in March. In their language it is called gibain; and this oily kind of thick substance, manufactured in their way, they use by way of sauce, or instead of butter, among their porridge and flummery.”

The old solan geese are captured in the dark during the latter part of March. Macaulay gives the following account of the mode of procedure: “While the creeping fowlers hear them cry grog, grog, they continue to approach without any fear of alarming them; but as soon as they hear bir, bir, they halt. If the fowls who were alarmed of the approaching danger are not able to discover the enemy, they give the signal of security, grog, grog; the fowlers then advance, and lay, with great caution, the first solan goose which they kill among his old companions: and the St Kildans,” he adds, “ have given me repeated assurances that the living begin to mourn immediately over their departed friend, with a lamentable tone of voice, examining his body very narrowly with their bills, and are so deeply affected that the fowlers improve their sorrow and confusion much to their own advantage.” After giving the purport of this passage, Mr Sands states that it sometimes happens that the entire flock flies away with a “Beero! hurro! boo! ” when the fowlers have the mortification of crawling back without any victims.


Fulmar Petrel

Probably the most interesting of the existing sea-birds of St Kilda is the Fulmar or Fulmar-petrel, which may almost be regarded as peculiar to that island.and the adjacent rocks. According to Mr Gray, it formerly bred in the south isles of Barra, and perhaps also in Mull; and one of his correspondents recently informed him that its eggs are still to be obtained on a stack off the far-famed Talisker in Skye. It is seen pretty frequently in Orkney and Shetland, where, however, it is said never to breed. There can be no doubt that its headquarters have long been St Kilda, with which it is, in more than one respect, intimately associated. One of its favourite haunts in the group is the precipitous stack of Briorach, already referred to, lying between St Kilda and Soa. On the main island it generally selects a lofty position on the cliffs, and builds its nest on the grassy ledges. The fulmar is about as large as a middle-sized gull—or, as Martin expresses it, “ a mall of the second rate,”—which it greatly resembles, except in the formation of the bill. From a stuffed specimen of a full-grown bird now before me, which I saw noosed on one of the cliffs, I may give the following description : The head, neck, breast, and tail are of a dingy white colour; the back and wings (which are long) being slate-grey, and the latter tipped with black; head round, neck short and thick; bill large, strong, and sub-cylindrical, about an inch and a half in length, and of a pale-yellow colour ; the upper mandible hooked at the point like that of the eagle, and the tip of the lower one curved upwards—the tips of both mandibles appearing as separate pieces firmly joined to the straight part of the bill, which is marked by longitudinal grooves; the nostrils inclosed in a tube open at the extremity, and extending along the ridge of the upper mandible ; legs dark brown, and about three inches long; feet pretty broad, and of a paler colour than the legs, with sharp claws and a small hind toe. Martin’s engraving of the bird is about as like the original as the secretary-falcon, or serpent-eater, of South Africa. The egg, which is white, is rather larger than that of the solan goose, sharpish at one end and somewhat blunt at the other; shell thin and tender, being liable to break in a rainy season. “When his egg is once taken away," says Martin, “he lays no more for that year, as other fowls do both a second and third time. The young fowl is brought forth in the middle of June, and is ready to take wing before the 20th of July. He comes in November, a sure messenger of evil tidings, being always accompanied with boisterous west winds, great snow, rain, or hail, and is the only sea-fowl that stays here all the year round, except the month of September and part of October. The inhabitants prefer this, whether young or old, to all others. The old is of a delicate taste, being a mixture of fat and lean—the flesh white; no blood is to be found but only in his head and neck. The young is all fat, excepting the bones, having no blood but what is in his head.” The male and female hatch by turns for six weeks, and take the same period to nourish their progeny. The weight of the fulmar is from two to three pounds. Every family has from three to four barrels, each containing about two hundred birds, salted for winter use. Martin further informs us that “ if the fulmar comes to land, there is no west wind to be expected for some time; but if he keeps at sea, or goes to sea from the land, whether the wind blow from the south, north, or east, or whether it is a perfect calm, his keeping the sea is always a certain presage of an approaching west wind.”

“Screaming from his nest
The fulmar soared, and shot a westward flight
From shore to sea.”

According to Macaulay, “ so exquisitely nice are his feelings, and so strong his resentment, that he conceives an unconquerable aversion for his nest if one breathes over it, and will never pay it any more visits : for this reason, to plunder his nest, or to offer indignity to it, is in Hirta a high crime and misdemeanour.”

With its long wings extended, its flight is easy and elegant—gliding as it does in graceful curves, and seldom moving a pinion—the Camilla of the ocean, like whom

“She sweeps the seas, and as she skims along,
Her flying feet unbathed on billows hung.”

On our return from St Kilda on the 2d of July, two or three fulmars followed the “Dunara” at least as far as the Sound of Harris, and I thus had a good opportunity of watching their movements. The fulmar is extremely voracious, its principal food being fish ; but it constantly attends upon whale-ships, in order to pick up any offal that is thrown overboard; and it follows, in flocks, the track of a wounded whale, alighting on the carcass for the purpose of devouring the blubber. Sailor boys often amuse themselves by catching attendant fulmars, by means of lines and hooks baited with fat.

Besides being highly esteemed by the islanders as food, the feathers and oil of the fulmar form, as already stated, two important articles of export. Beds made of the feathers are supposed never to harbour insects; but it is alleged that they are difficult to keep dry. Mr Gray gives a detailed statement relative to the oil, furnished to him by Mr Edward C. C. Stanford, F.C.S., from which it appears that, “ when genuine, it is of a clear, dark, slightly reddish cherry colour, and has a powerful and peculiar odour — an odour of which the whole island and all the inhabitants smell. It is certainly a fish oil, and possesses nearly all the properties of cod-liver oil. Its specific gravity is midway between cod-liver and sperm.

After indicating other chemical characteristics, Mr Stanford says: “I shall be glad if this short notice of fulmar oil will induce any one to experiment with it for medicinal purposes. I have no doubt a good deal might be obtained, and a good market would be a boon to that isolated people.”

Fulmar-fowling begins on the 12th of August—an ominous day on the mainland to another noble bird—and lasts between two and three weeks. The fowlers are usually accompanied by a few of the younger women, some of whom can carry about two hundred pounds weight of birds. The oil is extracted from the stomachs of both the old and the young birds, and enclosed in long distended bags, formed of the stomachs of old solan geese. The receptacle is held open by one man, while another, squeezing the body of the fulmar, forces the oil through its gaping bill. It proves of great service to the islanders during the long-continued darkness of the winter nights. In order to obtain the oil, the fowler requires to seize and strangle the bird in a rapid manner, otherwise it is immediately squirted in his eyes, as a defensive movement; not, as is commonly supposed, through the tubular nostrils in the surface of the upper mandible, but through the throat and open mouth. Each fulmar contains about half a pint of oil.

The estimation in which the fulmar is held by the islanders may be gathered from the following words of a St Kildan, which are recorded in the pages of Macaulay: “Can the world exhibit a more valuable commodity? The fulmar furnishes oil for the lamp, down for the bed, the most salubrious food, and the most efficacious ointments for healing wounds. Deprive us of the fulmar, and St Kilda is no more.” But we must also look at the other side of the picture. What says the worthy Sysselmand, the king’s sheriff in Faroe, and deeply learned in fowl-lore?“ Thirty years ago, the fulmar knew his place: our fishers saw him out at sea 100 miles away, and only a stray bird now and then was driven hither by a heavy gale; but now he has set his ugly foot on my Holm of Myggenoes, and on the Goblin’s Head of Sando, and every year he spreads further and further, and breeds in more places. Nasty, stinking beast why, even his egg keeps its stench for years; his flesh no man can eat; and if you sleep on a bed on which even a handful of his feathers have been put by mistake, you will leave it long before morning : and yet this fellow thrusts his nose in among my gannets, and is slowly but surely driving them away, . . . just as the Germans are overrunning Schleswig ”!

The last as well as the least of the St Kilda sea-fowl to which I intend specially to refer, is the Puffin, Tammie Norrie, or Sea-parrot, a fat and consequential little bird, so well described by a writer in the ‘ North British Review’ (May 1864), as looking “ like a respectable butler at his master’s door, in a black coat and white waistcoat, with a Roman nose red at the tip with many a bottle of port! ” Probably greater numbers of this bird are annually captured by the islanders than of all the others put together. Mr Gray inclines to think that the puffin is the most abundant species of sea-fowl on the west of Scotland, from Cape Wrath to the Mull of Galloway, Ailsa Craig and St Kilda being two of its favourite haunts. In 1826, nearly a thousand puffins were killed, for a wager, in a single day, by the powerful tacksman of Ailsa; and a few years ago, the number annually captured in Faroe was estimated at 235,000 — an experienced fowler slaughtering about nine hundred in one day. Mr Sands calculates that upwards of 89,000 puffins must have been killed by the St Kildans in 1876. “The bougir of Hirta,” says Macaulay, “is by some called the coulterneb, and by others the puffin. This is a very fine sprightly bird, in size much like a pigeon : it seems to be conscious of its own beauty, cocking its head very smartly, and assuming great airs of majesty. Its colour is black on the outer parts, and about the breast red and white; the legs and feet are red (or rather orange), and the beak fashioned like a coulter, edged above, and most charmingly painted with red and yellow below.” The form of the bill is very peculiar, being of a triangular shape, short, broad, and very much compressed, the depth at the base about the same as its length—an approach, indeed, to an equilateral triangle— the ridge of the upper mandible as high as the top of the head, both mandibles being arched, and transversely grooved. Like its wings and tail, the puffin’s legs are short and placed far back, in consequence of which arrangement the bird sits very erect, like the auk and penguin, resting on the tarsus as well as on the foot. Its flight is rapid, straight, and strong, though not long sustained; and its swimming and diving powers are very remarkable. It breeds in burrows of its own making, among stones and splintered rocks, somewhat similar to rabbit-holes, from which it is dislodged by dogs trained for the work. The shaggy coat of a Skye terrier is extremely serviceable for the purpose. The birds seize it with their powerful beaks, as the dog traverses the long passages; and an accomplished terrier has been seen to emerge from a burrow with half-a-dozen puffins dangling from different parts of his body! Like the solan and fulmar, the male and female puffins hatch by turns. The single egg which is laid is usually deposited, by way of protection, at the farthest extremity of the subterranean passage. Originally pure white, and mottled with ashy spots, it ultimately becomes very much soiled, and before the young bird is hatched, the shell assumes a dark-brown colour. The infant puffins are chiefly fed with sand-eels, which the old birds carry in their beaks in large numbers, and from great distances, hanging down on each side like a beard. The Faroe fowlers allege that an old puffin can carry as many as fifty sand-eels in his beak at once!

Had my space permitted, I should have liked to say a few words about some of the other sea-fowl of St Kilda —the guillemot,6 the razor-bill, the cormorant, the shearwater, the storm-petrel, and the kittiwake and other gulls ; but “ the line has to be drawn somewhere,” and the puffin must close my catalogue of feathered portraits, which an impatient reader may perhaps consider already too long. A history of St Kilda, however, without a notice of the birds, would have been the play without Hamlet. The mode in which they are captured by the hardy islanders will form the conclusion of the present chapter.

Fowling, as we have already seen, is the principal avocation of the St Kildans; and the great ambition of every male on the island is to excel as a cragsman. In the words of the Lord Register Mackenzie, “the exercise they affect most is climbing of steep rocks. He is the prettiest man who ventures upon the most inaccessible, though all they gain is the eggs of the fowls, and the honour to dye, as many of their ancestors, by breaking of their necks.” According to the “Apostle of the North,” “ the impulsive Celt likes the excitement of an occasional risk, rather than the monotony of safe and continuous Employment.” Nearly all the published accounts of St Kilda refer to the feats of the fowlers, and the various modes in which they prosecute their hazardous calling. Probably the earliest notice of the cragsmen is embraced in the paper communicated by Sir Robert Moray to the Royal Society exactly two hundred years ago, in which he describes the dangers connected with the capture of sea-fowl by the “men of Hirta” on the apparently inaccessible Stacca Donna. “After they have landed,” he says, “with much difficulty, a man having room but for one of his feet, he must climb up twelve or sixteen fathoms high. Then he comes to a place where, having but room for his left foot and left hand, he must leap from thence to such another place before him, which, if he hit right, the rest of the ascent is easie; and with a small cord, which he carries with him, he hales (hauls) up a rope, whereby all the rest come up. But if he misseth that footstep (as oftentimes they do), he falls into the sea, and the company takes him in by the small cord, and he sits still until he be a little refreshed, and then he tries it again; for every one there is not able for that sport.”

Both Martin and Macaulay furnish curious details respecting the ropes formerly used by the cragsmen. In Martin’s time, there appear to have been only three ropes in the whole island—the property of “the commonwealth” —each being twenty-four fathoms in length; and these were either tied together or used separately, according to circumstances. “ The chief thing upon which the strength of these ropes depends is cows’ hides, salted and cut out in one long piece; this they twist round the ordinary rope of hemp, which secures it from being cut by the rocks. They join sometimes at the lower end two ropes, one of which they tie round the middle of one climber, and another about the middle of another, that these may assist one another in case of a fall; but the misfortune is that sometimes the one happens to pull down the other, and so both fall into the sea; but if they escape (as they do commonly of late), they get an incredible number of eggs and fowls. . . . They catch their fowls with gins made of horse-hair; these are tied to the end of their fishing-rods, with which the fowlers creep through the rocks indiscernibly, putting the noose over their heads about their necks, and so draw them instantly. They use likewise hair-gins, which they set upon plain rocks, both the ends fastened by a stone.” He then proceeds to describe the wonderful dexterity of the fowlers, which he himself witnessed, and refers to the early initiation of the young men of St Kilda in the dangers of the cliffs. “The young boys,” he says, “of three years old begin to climb the walls of their houses; their frequent discourses of climbing, together with the fatal end of several in the exercise of it, is the same to them as that of fighting and killing is with soldiers, and so is become as familiar and less formidable to them than otherwise certainly it would be.” Macaulay’s description of the ropes is more minute than that of Martin. He states that each party of fowlers, which usually consists of four skilful and agile men, possesses at least one rope, about thirty fathoms long, “ made of a strong, raw cow-hide, salted for that very purpose, and cut circularly into three thongs, all of equal length. These thongs being closely twisted together, form a threefold cord, able to sustain a great weight, and durable enough to last for about two generations.” To prevent injury from friction on the rocks, the cord was lined with sheepskin. “ In the testament of a father, it constitutes the very first article in favour of his eldest son; should it happen to fall to a daughter’s share, in default of male heirs, it is reckoned equal in value to the two best cows in the isle.” He elsewhere mentions a less costly rope made of horse-hair, nine or ten fathoms in length, which they use in more accessible places. “Linked together in couples, each having either end of the cord fastened about his waist, they go frequently through the most dreadful precipices. When one of the two descends, his colleague plants himself on a strong shelf, and takes care to have such sure footing there, that if his fellow-adventurer makes a false step and tumbles over, he may be able to save him.” Like Martin, Macaulay describes, what he saw with his own eyes, the performance of two noted cragsmen. “One of them fixed himself on a craggy shelf; his companion went down sixty fathoms below him, and after having darted himself away from the face of a most alarming precipice, hanging over the ocean, he began to play his gambols. He sung merrily and laughed very heartily. . . . The fowler, after having performed several antic tricks, and given us all the entertainment his art could afford, returned in triumph and full of his own merit, with a large string of fowls round his neck, and a number of eggs in his bosom.”

As in the moral world (where every schoolboy knows something about a certain facilis descensus), the ascent of the cliffs, which is occasionally unavoidable, is more difficult than the converse process. This is effected by fastening a rope to two cragsmen, who ascend by turns. In the event of the foremost slipping his foot, he falls only the length of his cable-tow, his fellow usually breaking the fall. Sometimes loose stones are dislodged by the feet of the uppermost fowler, and the rope is apt to be cut or weakened by the sharp edge of the rock, giving way under the weight of the man below. At other times, the strain of the rope is relieved when the lower cragsman happens to reach a grassy resting-place; and if the turf gives way before he has time to warn his comrade, he falls into the yawning abyss, dragging the other along with him.

Mr Wilson gives a very graphic account of the performances of the St Kilda cragsmen as witnessed from a boat. After the minister (Mr M'Kenzie) had made a preconcerted signal, “three or four men,” he says, “from different parts of the cliff, threw themselves into the air, and darted some distance downwards, just as spiders drop from the top of a wall. They then swung and capered along the face of the precipice, bounding off at intervals by striking their feet against it, and springing from side to side with as much fearless ease and agility as if they were so many schoolboys exercising in a swing a few feet over a soft and balmy clover field. Now they were probably not less than seven hundred feet above the sea. . . . A great mass of the central portion of the precipice was smoother than the wall of a well-built house, . . . so that any one falling from the summit would drop at once sheer into the sea. ... We could perceive that the cragsmen, having each a rope securely looped beneath their arms, rested occasionally upoi\ their toes, or even crawled, with a spider-like motion, along projecting ledges; and ever and anon we could see them waving a small white fluttering object, which we might have taken for a pocket-handkerchief, had we not been told it was a feathery fulmar.” He states that the cragsmen usually work in couples, each of whom has, as it were, two ropes between them. “One man,” he adds, “stands on the verge of the precipice, and the rope which he holds in his hands is fastened round the body and beneath the arms of him who descends, while another rope is pressed by the foot of the upper man, and is held in the hand of the lower. . . . It is said that scarcely more than one or two accidents have happened within the memory of the present generation.” Mr Wilson was told that on one occasion two men had descended close together, suspended by the same rope, when suddenly the higher of the two perceived that several strands above his head had given way, and that the rope was rapidly rending from the unaccustomed weight. Believing the death of both to be inevitable if he delayed an instant, and with but small hope even of his own life under existing circumstances, life cut the cord close beneath his own body, and consigning his companion to immediate death, was himself drawn to the crest of the precipice just in time to be seized by the neck as the rope gave way. Speaking of the boldness of the St Kilda fowler, Mr Morgan says: “ Not content with the mere routine discharge of his calling, he swings and careers down the cliff like a plaything jerked by an elastic cord. Sometimes when the portion of the crag to be visited lies within the perpendicular—that is, under that portion of the rock from which his comrade tightly grasps the oft- tried cord—he strikes out from the cliff with the steady sweep of a pendulum, the impetus landing him at the wished-for ledge. About the age of twelve or fourteen, they first essay the cliffs, no unimportant day to a St Kilda youth. During the last thirty years, five men have, in the language of the island, ‘gone over the rocks.’ In these words are registered the deaths of the daring spirits who fall victims to the dangers of their calling. Their bodies are seldom, if ever, recovered, being ruthlessly engulfed by the voracious deep."

On the occasion of my visit to St Kilda in July, one of the principal features in the programme was, of course, a practical display of the prowess of the cragsmen. The minister having made suitable arrangements with some of the most experienced fowlers in the island, we ascended to the summit of the cliff, which commands a magnificent view of Borrera and the adjacent stacks—a pretty stiff pull of fully half an hour—and from the verge of the precipice looked down a sheer descent of some eight hundred feet upon the heaving rollers of the Atlantic. Furnished with the requisite ropes and other appliances, four or five of the cragsmen approached the edge of the cliff. One of the most agile of the party—a vigorous, bright-eyed islander of about thirty years of age—taking one rope in his hand, in order to steady his movements,

and having another firmly secured round his waist, was gradually lowered down the perpendicular face of the precipice by two of his comrades. Uttering a shrill Gaelic cry, he descended barefooted, skipping and singing as he went, and occasionally standing out nearly at a right angle from the beetling cliff! Arrived at the narrow rocky ledges where the fulmar and puffin sit in supposed security, a long stick, resembling a fishing-rod, with a noose at the extremity, was let down to him from above, which he cautiously extended, making the noose fall rapidly over the head of the bird, the fluttering victim being immediately captured. Several fulmars and puffins were thus secured for different members of our party, one of the former—of which an accurate representation is given —being now in my possession. It is difficult, by means of verbal narration, to convey anything like an adequate idea of the sensation produced by the wonderful performance which I have endeavoured to describe ; but with the aid of Mr Carlyle Bell’s clever illustration, some slight notion may perhaps be formed. To any one who has witnessed the daring procedure of the St Kilda cragsman, the most startling feats of a Blondin or a Leotard appear utterly insignificant; and if the most venturesome member of the Alpine Club had been of our party, I feel satisfied that he would have been compelled to “hide his diminished head”! Some sensitive people are quite unable to contemplate the fowler’s miraculous movements; and even in the case of the most callous spectator, the blood inclines to run cold, and for once in his life he discovers that he is possessed of a nervous system.

The exploits of the cragsmen on the cliffs of Borrera and Soa and adjacent stacks are, if possible, even more astonishing than their performances on the main island. Stack Briorach, the pointed rock between Soa and St Kilda, is regarded as the crucial test of a fowler’s pluck. Here the rope is of no avail, and the rock can only be climbed after the fashion of the celebrated “steeple-Jack,” lately gone to his rest. The man who fails to accomplish the ascent never gets a wife in St Kilda. Only two of the islanders achieved the feat during the first eight years of Mr M'Kenzie’s incumbency—the inducement being a quid of tobacco presented by an English visitor! The minister, who was present, described the undertaking as “fearful.” When the fowlers reached the summit of the stack, they committed great havoc among the unsuspecting fulmars, tying them in large bundles, and flinging them into the sea, which was crimsoned with blood, “as if the second angel had sounded ”! Macaulay gives an account of the mode in which the fowlers formerly carried out their expeditions to Briorach and the other stacks. When the weather was favourable, they manned a boat with eight of their most skilful hands—the factor’s deputy, who on such occasions acted as captain, under the local designation of gingach, being the first to land and the last to quit the rock. His description of the procedure is very similar to that already quoted from Sir Robert Moray’s communication to the Royal Society, but somewhat fuller in its details.

The exciting sport of bird-catching is not confined to the male sex. Like the maids of ancient Sparta, the young women of St Kilda employ themselves in fowling, their hunting expeditions being chiefly directed against the puffins. Mr Sands accompanied a detachment of seven vigorous girls to Borrera, returning to St Kilda with the men of the party, while the women remained on the islet for a period of three weeks. After two or three of the men had landed, as already explained, “ the girls in succession jumped into the arms of the man at the foot of the cliff, who lifted them on the slope, where, by the help of the rope, they attained a level spot.” Laden with their stores, they then fearlessly ascended by a hazardous route to a height of some five hundred feet, where they reached a sort of terrace, on which were a number of the cleits, or pyramids, already referred to. After a few minutes’ rest, the damsels proceeded vigorously to business, and with the aid of their sagacious and well-trained dogs, soon secured a considerable number of birds. They, also set snares, by means of which each girl bags several hundreds in a single day. Mr Sands was informed that their place of abode, during their temporary sojourn in the islet, was an old hut “across the hill,” which he conjectures to be the hermitage of Stallir, described by Martin and Macaulay, and to be afterwards referred to.

The eggs of the different sea-fowl constitute an important article in the diet of the St Kildans. Martin mentions that he had the curiosity to make a “calcule” of the number of eggs bestowed upon his party during a three weeks’ residence on the island, and he came to the conclusion that they amounted to sixteen thousand. “Without all doubt,” he adds, “the inhabitants, who were triple our number, consumed many more eggs than we could.” He elsewhere states that he has seen the natives bring home, in a single morning, twenty-nine baskets full of eggs, the least of them containing four hundred large eggs, and the others eight hundred and upwards of smaller ones. He refers to the astringent quality of the eggs, and the effect produced upon some members of his party, in the shape of swollen veins, by a too abundant consumption of them. Dr Macdonald, in one of his Journals, also alludes to the large quantity of eggs collected by the islanders. “The eggs of the solan geese,” he says, “resembling those of our common country geese, eat well; but those of a small black bird called by the natives the bougir (puffin), resembling in size and taste our hen eggs, relish most of any I have eaten on the island.”

The following are a few of the many anecdotes that have been preserved in illustration of the dangers connected with fowling. On one occasion, the rope having given way, a young cragsman, the only support of a widowed mother, fell down a depth of several fathoms, lighting upon a grassy shelf, where unfortunately no assistance could be rendered. All that his friends could do was to approach as near as possible with a boat and comfort him by words at a distance. On the evening of the third day, parched with thirst, and starving with hunger, he became deranged, and was heard chanting a simple native song, till death sealed his lips. On another occasion, a father and son happened to descend by a single rope. When they were being drawn up, the son observed that a sharp rock had nearly cut through the rope, but he came to the conclusion that it was still capable of bearing the weight of one of them. On hearing this, the father urged his son to avail himself of it, as he was old and of comparatively little use in the world. The son burst into tears, and urged his father to ascend. With great reluctance he yielded, and reached the summit of the cliff in safety. On the son trying the rope after him, it gave way, as was expected, and the anxious father saw his son mangled by the projecting rocks, before he had reached the yawning gulf below. Martin gives an account, on the authority of the natives, of an “extraordinary risque” which one of them incurred while engaged in setting his gins. Walking barefoot along the rock where he had fixed a gin, he happened to put his toe in the noose, and fell over the rock, where he hung by the toe for a whole night, twenty fathoms above the ocean, the gin proving strong enough to support him. One of his comrades hearing his cry for assistance, came to the rescue, and drew him up to the summit of the cliff!


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