Review of new book ‘Lady of St Kilda’

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A review of a new book by John M MacAulay, ‘Lady of St Kilda: A Famous Topsail Schooner’ by Alastair McIntosh.

John M MacAulay of Flodabay is an esteemed Gaelic tradition bearer of the Isle of Harris.

He is respected for a series of earlier books including “Silent Tower” (about the history of St Clement’s Church, Rodel), and “Seal Folk and Ocean Paddlers”, about links between Hebridean mermaid folklore and the Sea Sami peoples.

In this latest work, he draws upon his skills as both a mariner and a traditional boatbuilder to chart the history of The Lady of St Kilda, a topsail fruit schooner.

The hundred foot, 136 ton yacht was built for Sir Thomas Dyke Acland of Devon at Dartmouth in 1834.

He and his wife had fallen in love with St Kilda and its people after a visit in 1812.

Their captain had been the pioneering navigator, Fairfax Moresby.

My ears pricked up at this point, for I once spent two years living in the capital of Papua New Guinea, named Port Moresby after this man.

Those were the days of mariners who could take equally within their compass the North Atlantic and the South Pacific, and without the benefit of SatNav.

Through the lens of the schooner MacAulay weaves together the remarkable history of the islands of St Kilda (an outpost of his home parish of Harris), the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, the Azores fruit trade for which this type of craft was designed, and a remarkable 12,000 mile round trip that she made to Canton.

The latter is pieced together from the surviving ship’s log.

Compelling reading - complete with drunken sailors, a flogging, skulduggery and measures to repel pirates.

What makes this book a joy is the weaving together of geography, shipbuilding, the merchant navy and life in general.

All of this is revealed in the ten year period before the Lady of St Kilda was wrecked off Tahiti.

This is a book that informs, delights, and shows the workings of its island author’s mind, where nearly every happening finds connection back to home.

If you would like to buy a copy

‘Lady of St Kilda: A Famous Topsail Schooner’ is published by Isle Press, Flodabay, priced £18 hardback.