Highlands & Islands

Rare images of St Kilda's 'modern primitives' found

Photographs taken by an academic while on a day trip to St Kilda more than 90 years ago have been uncovered in Glasgow University's archives.

Keir Harper, a student at the university, has helped to raise awareness of the rare collection of images via his blog.

Mr Harper along with Amy Robinson, another student, have been cataloguing and researching the collection.

They show holiday-makers arriving at the remote archipelago just years before it was abandoned by it inhabitants after life on the islands became too difficult.

Greenock-born Thomas Patterson, a lecturer in organic chemistry at Glasgow, is thought to have taken the photographs in the 1920s.

People had lived on St Kilda, the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides, since prehistoric times.

Trips to the islands at the time were advertised as a chance to "Come and See Britain's Modern Primitives".

Image copyright University of Glasgow Library
Image copyright university of glasgow library
Image copyright university of glasgow library
Image copyright university of glasgow library
Image copyright university of glasgow library
Image copyright university of glasgow library

Mr Harper said the photographs could be considered as rare because they documented St Kilda's dwindling population in the lead up to the abandonment in 1930.

Tourists began visiting the archipelago in the 19th Century when St Kildans - known as the Hiortaich - had become more dependent on the outside world.

The development of tourism meant the world learned of the St Kilda Parliament, in which the men met each morning to discuss the day's tasks.

Visitors reported that the islanders' ankles were unusually thick and strong from climbing cliffs to hunt seabirds and collect eggs.

A hard winter in 1929 was a factor behind the last 36 islanders being resettled on the mainland.

St Kilda, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), has dual Unesco World Heritage status.

Dr Jennifer Novotny, research assistant at University of Glasgow Archive Services, said: "This has been a fantastic result from the work of two of our volunteer placements in the University Archives, Amy Robinson and Keir Harper, who were working on the Patterson collection.

"It highlights the discoveries that are possible and the potential for future research."

Susan Bain, Western Isles manager for NTS, added: "We're very excited to see these new images and are indebted to the Glasgow archives for recognising their value to us.

"The images are very interesting as not only do they show the tourist trade in the early 20th Century, but we can also see the village as it was nearly a century ago and identify some of the people who were soon to leave their island home for ever."

Image copyright Thinkstock

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