BIRDS AND MEN ON ST. KILDA
made by a fulmar bringing up her ammunition, I tended automatic-
ally to dodge out of range in a way not always conducive to safe
One of the most curious things about the fulmar's oil is its abund-
ance. The average yield per bird is stated to be nearly half a pint.
The St. Kildans, after noosing a bird, squeezed the oil out of its mouth
into a bag made of a gannet's stomach, and so transported it home.
The island is dotted with little stone beehive huts, called "clctts."
These served to store the carcasses and feathers of birds until they
were needed, and also to hold turves, potatoes, and grain. We came
on one at 1100 feet on a promontory jutting out from the great cliff-
face of Conachair.
There are many curious and interesting facts about St. Kilda
which one docs not want to pass over. The great Dr. Johnson once
told Boswell to buy the island so that they might live there for a timeó
a project which, perhaps fortunately, was never carried out.
One of Dr. Johnson's pronouncements concerned the famous
"boat-cough" of St. Kilda, the "disease, occasionally fatal, which
seized the islanders every time that a boat arrived from the mainland.
It is obvious enough to-day that this was due to the absence of germs
on St. Kilda and the consequent absence of immunity to colds and
flu among the St. Kildans. But even Seton, in 1878, with similar
facts from Tristan da Cunha before him, could suggest, as an alter-
native to contagion, that the ailment might be caused "by a feverish
excitement arising from the contact of a higher with a lower civiliza-
tion" ! So we need not be surprised that Dr. Johnson was sceptical.
"'How can there be a physical effect without a physical cause? ... If
one stranger gives them one cold, two strangers must give them two
colds, and so in proportion." But he praised Macaulay, the chronicler
of the islands, a great-uncle of the historian, for his broad-mindedness,
as a Whig, in insisting on the existence of so miraculous and irrational
In the early eighteenth century the women wore no shoes or stock-
ings save a sock or feather-shoe made out of the skin of a gannet's
neck and back of the head: such a shoe lasted four or five days. They
were indeed bird people.
A curious fact about the St. Kildans is that they did not use real
peat, but only turf. This may be partly explained by the peat-bogs
being at a height of over 1000 feet above the village, but is certainly
curious, since by cutting turf they damaged the grazing for their
beasts as well as restricting themselves to a very inferior fuel.
The subject of grazing brings me to the Soay sheep. These are of