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St. Kilda - Britain's Loneliest Isle (1923/28)

Courtesy of Scottish Screen Archive

Main image of St. Kilda - Britain's Loneliest Isle (1923/28)
35mm, black and white, silent, 18 mins
Directed byPaul Robello
 Bobbie Mann
SponsorJohn McCallum and Co
Produced byTopical Productions, Glasgow
Scottish Screen Archive collection

A voyage from Glasgow to St Kilda, containing scenes of the Western Isles and island life of the crofters on St Kilda. Research suggests scenes on the island of Hirta taken in May 1923, with later footage of the voyage to the St Kilda islands taken c. 1928.

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St. Kilda is the name given to the most westerly group of isles in the UK, being 100 miles west of the Scottish mainland. These isles were inhabited for over 4000 years. In the early part of the 20th Century the population had declined through emigration and disease to 36 souls. The decision was taken in 1930 to evacuate the islands.

The first known filmmaker to visit the islands was Oliver Pike in 1908. It was to be some fifteen years before the next known visit of a cameraman - the 1920s saw both professional and amateur cameramen on the island. The amateur footage was mostly shot by visiting tourists. By the '20s St Kilda had become a fashionable destination for travelling middle-class town dwellers from the Scottish urban central belt. They took passage on the scheduled steamer sailings in the summer months and had their box brownie and cine cameras with which they photographed the inhabitants as exhibits in a zoo. It was an amateur cameraman who took the only visual record of the evacuation in 1930 - official press and newsreel cameras were forbidden to record the event.

The tourist trade was a lucrative sideline for the steamship companies on the West coast route, and it was in an effort to capitalise on this that John McCallum & Co commissioned a promotional film for theatrical release in the 1920s.

The film shows the St. Kilda men hunting fulmar (a type of gull) on the cliff face. Fulmar meat was a staple in the diet of the islanders, and the birds' oil could be used as fuel for lamps. Catching fulmar was dangerous.; a man was lowered by rope to perch barefoot on the sheer cliff and snare the young birds in their nests.

The idea for Michael Powell's film The Edge of the World (1937) came from a newspaper article describing the evacuation of St Kilda in August 1930. Powell wrote his story in advance and set off to see the owner of the island group. To Powell's dismay, he refused permission to film on the island and the production location was moved to Foula in the Shetland isles.

Kenneth Broom and Janet McBain

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Extract (4:36)
Edge of the World, The (1937)
Shetland Experience, The (1977)
St. Kilda, Its People and Birds (1908)