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An Island in Time: St Kilda and the 1764 Census

Release Date: 11 May 2017

This is an excerpt from an article published in Issue 41 of Broadsheet, which is available to download.

One of the joys, and privileges, of working in archives is discovering fascinating documents and bringing their hidden histories to the attention of researchers and the wider public. The National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS), which has just celebrated its 70th birthday, is accustomed to unearthing and cataloguing previously unknown archives. However, an invite to look at the records of an Argyllshire family, the Maclachlans of Maclachlan, brought to the surface an unexpected gem: the earliest known census of the population of St Kilda made in 1764.

Why the census should survive in this particular archive is a mystery: there is no obvious connection with the family and no other documents relating to the is-land in the collection. It was probably made in relation to Dr John Walker’s tour of the Hebrides in 1764. Commissioned by the SSPCK and the General Assembly to investigate the state of religion and education in the islands, Walker included information on St Kilda in his final report although he had never actually visited the island and must have received information from others.

Like so many documents of significance, it is not in itself imposing: a single sheet of paper recording the names of 90 islanders, 38 males and 52 females. But the information it contains transports us back two generations further than the previously known earliest census of 1822.

Alison Rosie, Registrar, National Register of Archives for Scotland


Read the full article in the current edition of Broadsheet.


Picture: St Kilda- Stac Lee and Stac an Armin by Norman Ackroyd RA