Ewen Gillies

Ewen Gillies


St Kilda

My name is Ewen Gillies – and if you asked me where I am from, I would find it difficult to answer! I was born on Hiort – the Island of St. Kilda, but I am now in Vancouver – and I have been in most of the world in between times.

My parents were John and Mary Gillies, and they lived latterly at No 15 on the street in St Kilda, though when I was born, in 1823, we were still living in the old village, before the crofts were made. Our Gillieses had come from Skye to settle on Hiort after the smallpox wiped out most of the Hiortaich in 1727, but I could never understand why, though the old folk used to say it was to get away from MacLeod of Dunvegan. I can understand that, but to have come to Hiort does seem a bit drastic!

Working on the cliffs and stacs was great fun for a young man, but after I married I began to look for a wider world for Margaret and our daughter Mary, and when they suggested that some of us should go to Australia, I was quite keen to be one of them. The old people had decided that life on Hiort was becoming too difficult, and there was assistance being offered with the cost of travel to Australia, so they picked six families of us to go and set up a base there, and the rest would follow once we were settled.

So off we set on the ‘Priscilla’ on 13th September 1852, bound for Melbourne – and what a journey that turned out to be! One of the other children coming on to the boat had measles- and none of us had ever had measles so we had no immunity to it, and we were dropping like flies! Our Mary was one of the first to go, and out of the whole party only a handful survived the voyage and quarantine – so of course that was the end of any idea that the rest of the Hiortaich would follow!

I got Margaret settled in a house in Melbourne, then off I headed to the gold digging – and little luck I had there – so then I turned to shepherding, and even had a small farm of my own for a time. That wasn’t successful either, so I set off for New Zealand, to see if the gold digging there was any better- but it wasn’t! So I came back to Melbourne, only to find that Margaret had given up on me, and married someone else!

So I reckoned that I might as well leave her there, and off I headed across the world to America, to find the Civil War raging there. So I joined the Confederate Army for a year or two, but I could see that they were going to lose, so I headed for the gold mines in California – and at last struck it lucky there!

So now that I had some cash, I began to think about my children, and headed back to Australia to collect them. Margaret wasn’t too happy about that, but having married again, she was in no position to argue! – and the boys had heard so much about St Kilda that they wanted to see the place – so off we went again! But when they saw St Kilda, they didn’t much like the idea of living there – I don’t think they relished the work on the cliffs too much! – so we headed back to California, and there we settled for as long as I have ever settled anywhere.

But I still had a hankering after Hiort, so after the boys were settled, I headed back there, and it was there that I got married again, to my present wife, Rachel MacQueen – at least I think I got married to her, for who knows if Margaret was still living in Melbourne! So then I took Rachel to Melbourne too, but she didn’t like it there – and I suppose she didn’t like the idea that she might perhaps bump into Margaret! – and we came back to Hiort once again. I enjoyed being back in my old home with Rachel and we settled down, but we lost our only child to the eight-day sickness – infantile tetanus – and that unsettled Rachel.

And the people there had so little go in them – I kept telling them of all the wonders of the outside world, and for a while I was in great demand in the ceilidh-houses, but then they must have got tired of the stories, for they started asking, why, if the outside world was so marvellous, had I come back to Hiort? And eventually they were asking why, if the outside world was so marvellous, didn’t I go back there!

So Rachel and I took the hint, and left Hiort for the last time, and we have settled here in Vancouver – and I don’t think that we will be moving on again, now that I am in my seventies.

But I have said that many a time before – so who knows where in the world I may be when you next hear of me?

(It will come as little surprise to learn that Ewen Gillies did not stay in Vancouver! He and his wife moved to Los Angeles County, California, sometime in the 1890s, where one of his daughters was married. Ewen died there in 1904, and his wife, Rachel, died there in 1905.)

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