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Between 1758 and 1855 it fluctuated between 87 and 120, and after
that between 70 and 80. Inbreeding was avoided through the
occasional arrival of refugees or of exiles banished from the main-
land as undesirables, (In 1732 the unfortunate Lady Grange,
whose husband disliked and feared her, was kidnapped, and after
being detained on the island of Heiskcr near North Uist for three
years, was spirited away to the safer prison of St. Kilda, where she
remained for eight years more.)
The birds on which they chiefly relied were gannets, fulmars,
puffins, and, to a lesser extent, guillemots. Puffins were sometimes
caught in their burrows with the aid of a dog, but usually snared in a
noose at the end of a long rod. They formed the chief meat diet of
the islanders in summer. A puffin was generally boiled in porridge
"to give the porridge a flavour"—an aim which was without doubt
realized 1
The gannets were very much sought after for winter provender.
Young gannets, like the young of some other sea-birds, become
extremely fat and at one stage actually surpass the adults considerably
in weight. Their parents then abandon them. After living on their
fat for some days, hunger prompts them to try their wings, and they
throw themselves off the ledge to volplane into the sea.
Each year up to the 1870*3 the St. Kildans made an expedition to
Boreray at the time when the "gougs," as the fat young are called,
were most abundant. They knocked one or two thousand on the
head, and brought them back to be salted down against winter.
Later, the raids were not so regular, and fewer gougs were taken.
But the fulmar was the St. Kildans' great standby. Like the puffin,
fulmars were snared in nooses; but unlike puffins, fulmars often
breed on steep places, and great skill and daring was needed, as with
the gannets, to obtain a full supply.
The carcasses were salted down for winter, the feathers were
plucked and used to stuff mattresses, and the oil was employed to give
light during winter. Both oil and feathers were also exported to pay
the laird's rent.
The fulmar's oil is a very peculiar phenomenon. Fulmars feed on
fish and plankton; the oil from these is retained in the stomach,
whence the bird can bring it up and eject it at an enemy. The oil
has a nauseous smell, and so potent a weapon is it that no other bird,
not even the much larger bonxies or the formidable greater black-
backed gull, will try conclusions with a fulmar. If it hits your clothes,
they will stink for days. I must confess that when, as I was scrambling
along some precipitous slope, I heard the disgusting retching noise