St Kilda, 2 June 1883 - Rev John Mackay

Rev. JOHN MACKAY (67)—examined.
13136. The Chairman.
How many years have you been here?
— Eighteen years in the month of October.

13437. Would you kindly state whether there is anything here in the condition of the people of which they have to complain, and which the Government or the proprietor could remedy?
—"Well, I don't know any reasonable complaint they have. They know themselves better. You can hear what they have to say about the rent and some sheep.

13438. I will hear that from them, but have you any general remark with reference for instance to communications with the mainland, and their general condition, and their supply of food ?
—Well, there will be sometimes they will be very ill off for want of food. In April last they had to go to Skye in a small boat, a fishing-boat, which they got from Mr Young, Glasgow.

13439. What are the regular fixed communications?
—The regular communications are twice a year.

13440. What are the months ?
—June and September generally.

Then they are eight months without communications ?
—Yes, for those eight months without communications.

13441. What are these two communications? Are they kept up by the proprietor of the island?
—They are kept up by the proprietor of the island, M'Leod of M'Leod.

13142. There is no stated visit on the part of a Government vessel?
— No.

13443. There is no communication here with the coast guard?

13444. No branch of the public service ?

13145. And are the posts brought by these two communications?
—Yes. There are eight months, and sometimes nine months, before they get any supply.

13146. But are there frequent accidental communications, such as the arrival of yachts or the arrival of vessels?
—Yes, there are some steamers, especially the ' Dunara Castle' and the ' Hebridean’. They come twice in summer each of them.

13447. Do they belong to the same company, or to different companies ?
—I think they belong to two different companies.

13448. And the steamers of each company come twice—that is, there are four arrivals of steamers?

13449. In what months are they?
—June, July, and sometimes August.

13450. Sheriff Nicolson.
The 'Hebridean' came three times last year?
—Yes, she came thrice.

13451. The Chairman.
Do these steamers bring the post or mail, or is the mail only brought by M'Leod's vessels ?
—When these steamers come they bring the mails.

13452. So you may say you have six mails in the year?

13453. But there are sometimes eight months without any mail at all?
—Yes, quite true.

13454. Is the place ever visited by any religious mission from the church ? Do any of the clergy ever come ?
—No; one of them may come with one of these steamers, and go away again.

13455. Is there any one regularly deputed by the church to come?
— No.

13456. Since you have been here, has there been any material change in the condition of the people, or are they just the same?
—Well, I think there is some change for the better as to their moral character.

13457. Their general character has improved?

13458. Are there any spirituous liquors sold in the island?

13459. Is there any private drinking in the houses ? Have they got any whisky or any spirituous liquors in their houses?
—Well, they buy a bottle or two, and when they are out on the hill and catch a cold, they take a glass of whisky after coming home, but that is all they use.

13460. When the steamers come here do they do any mischief by the sale of liquors or in any other way ?
—I don't think it. Some of these passengers are very loose in their character, and some of them are drunk when they come ashore, but the people avoid them as far as they can.

13461. The visits of these people don't do any harm to the people of
the island?
—No, they don't hurt them. They are very annoying when they remain here over the Sabbath.

13462. What do they do?
—They go about the hills, and go seeing through the windows and striking the dogs and one thing and another.

13463. About your school, what school is there here?
—There is a school taught by a woman, Miss M'Kinlay.

13464. Is that school supported by rates or by the proprietor?
—It is supported by the Ladies'Association in Edinburgh and by Miss M'Leod.

13465. Do the children attend regularly ?
—Yes, pretty fair. Sometimes their parents want them to go after some cattle, and they are sometimes absent in that way.

13466. Have they more general knowledge of English than when you came, or is there no change in that respect ?
—Well, there is a little, not much.

13467. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
We have always heard, and we felt today, there was a difficulty in landing. Do you think a pier could be erected at comparatively little expense, which would make it convenient for passengers to come ashore ?
—Well, I think so.

13468. Would that be an improvement to the island?
—It is likely to be an improvement. I am not very sure. After consulting with the people. It would improve the place very much.

13469. Would it be attended in their opinion with much expense to make one merely suitable for the requirements of the island ?
—They are not able to say what the expense would be.

13470. You are a minister of the Free Church?

13471. And supported by the Free Church?

13472. I presume the whole of the island belongs to that denomination?

13473. Lord Napier asked you a little ago about the state of the people, and you answered that their moral character had improved during your time. In regard to their circumstances, are they better off in their circumstances and means, do you think, than they were before ? Are they as comfortable in their ways and means as they used to be ?
—Well, I think they are better off to-day than they were when I came to the island.

13474. Does it arise from the visits of people who come to the island, or what is the reason ?
—Well, the rents are the same.

13475. Then how do you account for the improvement in their circumstances ?
—When the steamers come here, they leave a good deal of money among the people; and again there is another thing, that M'Leod gives a larger price for the kealt. It once sold for 2s. and 2s. 4d. and now they get 3s.

13476. Does he take the whole of the rent in that form, or does he take even more than the value of the rent in this kealt ?
—He will take the whole, everything he can get; he will take the whole produce of the island.

13477. When the steamers come here, are they able to make purchases of fresh provisions ? Are you able to sell any butter or fowls or eggs ?
— No, neither butter nor eggs. We have no hens on the island.

13478. Then steamers can get nothing in the way of food here?
—No, unless they buy a sheep ; they generally buy a sheep here.

13479. Are the people upon the whole very contented, quiet people?
— Well there will be some little things.

13480. You would rather they should state any little grievances they have themselves ?
—Yes, of course, let them speak for themselves.

13481. Mr Cameron.
How many marriages are there in the island in the year?
—Some years there are none at all. There were none last year.

13482. What is the average—one or two?
—That is the utmost—two.

13483. Do any of the people ever marry with those who come from the mainland?
—No, they never marry with any from the mainland; they marry among themselves.

13484. Do they ever get the chance of marrying people on the mainland ?
—I never heard it.

13485. Do you think they would if they got the chance?
—I think they would.

13486. Do you know of any offer of marriage that was ever made by young men of the mainland to any of the girls here ?
—Well, I cannot call to mind. They are not very fond of strangers.

13487. I gather from what you said to the Chairman that they don't care very much about having communication in the way of mails with the mainland. What they care for most is about getting supplies ?

13488. They care more about supplies than letters or papers?
—They are very fond of papers.

13489. Do they correspond very much with people on the mainland ?
—Yes, they do.

13490. How many letters do you think will one mail bring them?
— Well, I cannot say.

13491. Is there an average of one for everybody on the island?
—Not anything like it.

13492. What do they live upon chieuy? What do they eat?
—-They eat fresh potatoes, fulmars, and puffins.

13493. Do they kill their beasts and eat beef?

13494. And mutton?

13495. What time of the year are they most hard up for food ?
— April.

13496. Have they been pretty healthy for the last year?
—Yes, they have been pretty healthy.

13497. I understand they were rather alarmed when they saw the ship coming today, for fear there would be any infectious disease on board.
—Well, they were that.

13498. What infectious disease were they afraid of?
—When they were in Skye in April last the island of Skye was very much affected with fever and small-pox and measles, and they were afraid that such diseases might be among you, because they did not know what kind of a ship it was.

13499. Have they ever had any epidemic amongst them here?

13500. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
How many births are there on an average in the year?
—One or two. There were two last year.

13501. Do the children live?
—I am sorry to say they don't live very well. When they come to the age of seven or eight days they generally die.

13502. Do you know if there are more deaths in the island than there are births ?
—No, there are not more deaths than births.

13503. Then the population is increasing?
—It is increasing a little. We had only six of an increase during the last twelve years. We had seventy-one in 1871 and we had seventy-six in 1881.

13504. What is it to-day?

13505. Do you feel the want of a doctor very much?
—Well, they are very much needing a doctor at times.

13506. The Chairman.
Who attends the women in childbirth?
—Miss M'Kinlay up here, the nurse.

13507. Has she been educated for that?
—I am told she was. She was sent here by Miss M'Leod, and she attends the women here.

13508. Do the women frequently die in childbirth? Has there been any case of that sort ?
—Yes, last February a young woman died here in childbirth. She was only married a year and a quarter.

13509. Is there any store for medicines or drugs? Are there any medicines kept in the island ?
—There is medicine kept in the island, but it will be sometimes very short.

13510. Sheriff Nicolson.
With regard to the children dying so early— at the age of seven or eight days-—are they as subject to that now as they were in former times?
—Well, they are not so very subject to it as they were when I came to the island.

13511. Is it supposed to be attributable to the want of proper care or proper feeding cf the infants at that early age ?
—I don't think it is from the want of any proper care at all, but after seven or eight days they always—especially some of them who die—are struck with lock-jaw.

13512. Do they give them anything but the mother's milk?

13513. There was also an old peculiarity of the inhabitants, that they took a cold when any strangers came to the island ?
—Well, they are very subject to that still. They always catch a cold when there is a cold in the or among the passengers who land here. It begins with one, and goes through the whole village.

13514. Have you noticed it yourself?
—Yes, I have.

13515. Following immediately after the visit of a ship?

13516. Have you been infected by it yourself?

13517. Then you think it was infectious?
—It was, very. There were some fishermen here from Uist a few years ago, and they had a very severe cold. There was not a man or woman on the island I think but took it, and I was very ill myself.

13518. Ordinarily they are not subject to colds?
—No, they are not. They are very healthy that way.

13519. Are there ever cases of consumption?
—No, there is not a case of consumption, so far as I know, on the island: they take so much food,
and these fulmars and birds they eat are so full of sap and oil.

13520. Have you known any cases of consumption since you were on the island?
—Not one.

13521. What are the prevalent diseases? Are they subject to rheumatism?
—Some of them are very bad with rheumatism.

13522. Are they subject to any skin diseases?
—They have nothing of that kind at all. Of course, they sometimes have their feet and legs broken

13523. I suppose they are all very well clothed?
—Very well.

13524. I suppose there is not a ragged person to be seen in the island?
—Not a ragged man or woman, if she or he pleases to clothe themselves.

13525. Or child ?
—Or child. There is plenty of cloth on the island.

13526. Are there any of them on the parochial roll of Harris?

13527. But I suppose there are some old women who cannot support themselves without help ?
—There are two women. There is one of them who is confined to bed for more than two years. She cannot do anything. She is very ill with rheumatism, and cannot move a limb.

13528. How is she supported?
—By her husband.

13529. In the case of old persons of that sort being unable to do anything for themselves, or without near relatives, who takes charge of them ?
—Well there are none of them in the island who have not relations.

13530. And their relations look after them?

13531. Are any of the inhabitants of the island engaged in work out of the island ?

13532. They are never in the habit of going to work out of the island?

13533. Or to fish?
—Yes, they fish in the island.

13534. But not out of it?

13535. They never go to the east coast?

13536. How many boats have they in the island for their own use?
— They have four or five boats.

13537. Sufficient for their own use round the coasts of the island?

13538. Are any of them big enough for going to the mainland with?
—Well, we sent for a boat last summer to Mr Fletcher Norton Menzies, Edinburgh. They have some money there lodged in his hands, and they wrote him to send them a boat; and after sending the boat, they complained that the boat was too small for going to Harris. You will see the boat down on the beach. The boat is a very steady one, but they say she is rather too small for going to the mainland, and they left that boat and took the boat Mr Young sent them some years ago, about 1867.

13539. Have they any peculiar superstitions here different from those of any other places ?
—I don't think they have.

13540. Is it the case that nobody in the island can speak English except yourself and Miss M'Kinlay?
—Well, they cannot speak very well, but they are coming on very well.

13541. I suppose they are getting a little more knowledge of English?

13542. The Chairman.
Is there ever any case of illegitimate birth here?
—There is.

13543. Is it very rare?
—Very rare, but I must say there is such a case.

13544. Sheriff Nicolson.
How many have there been since you came to the island ?

13545. In these cases did the father marry the woman?
—No, both of them were very young. There was a girl about twenty-four years of age, and a young lad. He was promising to marry her.

13546. Was he a native of the island?
—Yes, but she died in giving birth to the child. There was another case of a younger man who committed fornication.

13547. How do you account for the very small increase of the population. Is it from the deaths among the children being very large ?
—Yes. Some would make out that the blood is so weak by intermarrying.—they are so nearly connected with each other.

13548. Professor Mackinnon.
I suppose Miss M'Kinlay keeps a school quite regularly since she came to the place ?

13549. Do you keep up your own class yet?
—Yes, I teach them here every Sabbath evening—those whom she teaches.

13550: Before she came you taught them yourself?

13551. Are they all able to read?
—Yes, they are.

13552. They can read Gaelic every one of them?
—Perfectly well, and commit portions of Scripture to memory.

13553. Is there anything else they commit to memory besides portions of Scripture ?

13554. Nothing in the way of songs?
—Nothing. Nothing whatever— the Psalms of David and the New Testament.

13555. They have no poets of their own?
—No poets or poetry of their own.

13556. Or no recollection of one?
—Well, perhaps they may have, but I don't hear.

13557. I suppose Miss M'Kinlay teaches them to read English?

13558. Do you think they are able to understand much of what they read ?
—Well, they understand very little.

13559. I suppose the whole of the island is in their own hands? They have the whole island among them ?
13560. Do they all pay the same amount of rent ?

13561. What is the biggest rent?
—I cannot say. The men are here.

13562. There is no great big man among them that has taken possession of the crofts of others?
—No, they pay according to their grazings.

13563. Is everybody allowed to put on as much as he likes?
—I think he is.

13564. I heard when I was coming here that there was an emigration from this place. How long ago is that ?
—A great many years ago. It will be well on for thirty years ago since they went to Australia.

13565. Who had the property at that time?
—Sir John M'Leod.

13566. Can you tell how many families went away at that time ?
—Seven families, I think.

13567. It was to Australia they went?

13568. Did they go away of their own accord, of their own free will ?
— It was poverty that made them emigrate.

13569. Did the proprietor or factor compel them to go away in any way ?
—I think Norman, the factor, had a hand in it

13570. The Chairman.
Did he make them go?
—-He encouraged them to go, because some of them were poor, and he was giving them meal in
order to get quit of them. He got some papers from Government for them to sign, and when some of them saw their friends going away, more came afterwards and signed it.

13571. Professor Mackinnon.
Did the proprietor pay their passage?
— The proprietor did not know of it, and when he heard that they had gone, he was encouraging them to return, and said that he would do them every justice he possibly could; but as they had gone so far, they did not wish to return back, and he said he himself would send a ship for them if they would come back. This was Sir John M'Leod.

13572. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
Is this the first strange vessel that has come here this year ?

13573. Of course you have received no newspapers this year?
—Yes, the factor's ship was here on the 3rd of May. M'Leod of M'Leod sent a ship here. I wrote to him in July last, telling him the state of the island, and telling him he would require to send a ship in April with supplies for the people as the crop looked so bad.

13574. Did you get any newspaper then?

13575. Did you see anything about this Commission?
—Yes, I did; I read about this Commission, and about Glendale.

13576. But you did not know we were coming here?
—No, I did not expect you here at alL

13577. The Chairman.
Is there any case of great longevity in man or woman in the place ?
—Well, some of them are very old.

13578. How old is the oldest?
—A woman is the oldest person on the island. She will be about eighty—Mrs Rory Gillies.

13579. You don't know any extraordinary case of a person being one hundred years of age ?

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