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Wednesday 22 February 2017

News: St Kilda and Mingulay log books go online

The last school log books for the abandoned islands of St Kilda and Mingulay have gone online, revealing glimpses of community life on these remote Scottish islands.

Thanks to a partnership between the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Tasglann nan Eilean Siar (Hebridean Archives), the two unique books have been conserved and digitised in Edinburgh before being returned to Stornoway. The log books are now available as virtual books, allowing the browser to flip through the pages and zoom in to read individual text from the comfort of their computer.

Last entry in the St Kilda school log book, 1930

These fascinating documents give a weekly account of life on these islands from the school teachers' point of view, commenting on discipline, the weather and the progress being made by the students. Attendance is often an issue, with children being kept away from school to help with picking potatoes, cutting peat or unloading the supply boats. Illness and fear of illness also had an effect. The Mingulay log book, covering the years 1875 to 1910, notes for Valentine's Day 1896 "Only 20 came forward on Friday. This is owing to a whim of the parents that two or three other children are infected with a harmless rash on their hands. It is all a want of control of the [School] Board."

The St Kilda log book, dating from 1901 until the island was evacuated in 1930, is equally detailed. Its final pages record important non-school events such as the death of Mrs John Gillies (Mary Gillies), the visit of Tom Johnston MP and Under Secretary of State for Scotland, and the final day of the school before evacuation.

George MacKenzie, Registrar General and Keeper of the Records, says: "These books are precious survivors, and we're delighted that our conservation and digitising expertise has helped the Tasglann bring them to a worldwide audience. Working with local authority archives to make our nation's heritage more accessible is an important part of our remit."

Tasglann nan Eilean Siar is the archive service for the Western Isles. David Powell, Project Manager and Archivist with the Tasglann, comments "These logbooks have been accessible through Stornoway Library for many years, but now they have been digitised and made available online a much wider audience can access and appreciate them. The window into the past of these rural remote communities is fascinating and, as we were all school pupils at some point, is something we can all connect with in some way. Their digitisation will allow us to exploit them more widely as an education resource thanks to this partnership with the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. The Comhairle holds over 170 log books for schools in the Western Isles and these are available in the appropriate local libraries in Stornoway, Tarbert, Lionacleit and Castlebay for all to enjoy."

Images from the St Kilda log book also feature on the Scottish Ten website. This site gives details of the laser scanning work being undertaken by Historic Scotland at Scotland’s five World Heritage sites, including St Kilda, and features the log book, and select documents illustrating the NRS's extensive holdings of records for more than 300 years of the island's history.

To view the log books, go to the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar website and follow the links to the volumes.

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